The freshman tailback who will impact Georgia’s running game the most already got a taste of the college game during spring practices.
Or did he?
Keith Marshall showed some encouraging signs after enrolling in January before being sidelined with a pulled hamstring, but another newcomer, Todd Gurley, still hasn’t arrived on campus.
Marshall was the top running back recruit from North Carolina. Unless it was Gurley.
“When the season began, most people would have said Keith Marshall is the best back in North Carolina last year,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “By the time the season ended, I think there was a pretty strong debate on whether it was him or Todd. Thankfully they’re good buddies and they wanted to go to the same school and we got both, so we’re glad for that.”
Marshall was a top-15 prospect nationally by Scout.com and ESPN.com, but Gurley was the No. 42-rated player by Rivals.com., six spots ahead of Marshall.
“Gurley is bigger, he’s stronger, I think he’s close to as fast on the football field,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said. “I was worried that he was an upright guy and he was going to present a big target, but he’s tremendous. Once he gets a little bit stronger in his upper body, he’s going to be an absolute beast. He’s the best running back in the state of North Carolina.”
Gurley graduates from Tarboro High School on June 8 and will arrive shortly after. He doesn’t turn 18 until Aug. 3.
When he joins a backfield group that includes Isaiah Crowell, Ken Malcome, Marshall and Richard Samuel, he wants to be ready.
“When it’s time for me to get up in there, just be able to just shine,” said Gurley, who will wear jersey No. 3. “That’s the reason why they recruited me. … I ain’t that person that’s scared. I’m not scared of nothing. I chose Georgia because I’m just going to do what I always do and that’s just go in there and compete.”
Like Marshall, Gurley was bothered by a hamstring injury during spring track season, but is still running.
Gurley, who says he’s now 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns in leading Tarboro to the North Carolina Class AA state championship. He rushed for about 2,600 yards and 36 touchdowns as a senior and was named the AP state player of the year.
Gurley had 119 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries in being named North Carolina offensive MVP in the Shrine Bowl all-star game against a team from South Carolina.
He went from being unranked to No. 36 in the nation on recruiting analyst Tom Lemming’s rankings.
“I come from a small town, small school,” Gurley said. “Nobody really knows about us. Plus, I’ve only been to one camp — the Nike camp.”
Lemming said on the CBS Sports Network that Gurley flew under the radar on three different trips he took to North Carolina.
“All of a sudden I get a call from a college coach who sent me some film on this young ballplayer,” Lemming said. “Believe it, he’s lights-out. … He’s got great strength, speed, vision, balance, tremendous production. He outperformed every top player in North and South Carolina in the all-star game back in December. The Georgia Bulldogs got themselves a big-time back.”
Butch Davis recruited Gurley for North Carolina when he was still the Tar Heels’ coach.
“He doesn’t have the electrifying speed, but I’ll tell you what’s intriguing about Todd Gurley,” Davis said on ESPNU on signing day. “In camps when you watched him, he reminds me of the kid that I recruited to the University of Miami that did similar things in high school by the name of Sean Taylor. Sean was a high school running back and we flipped him over to play strong safety and he became one of college football’s greatest strong safeties.”
Gurley said he played safety the first eight games of his senior season before moving to defensive end. He said Georgia has not talked to him about playing safety.
He will room with his friend Marshall.
“He’s a great player,” Marshall said. “He’s a big guy. He’s bigger than me. I think we bring a little bit different. I’m faster, but he’s more between the tackles. We can complement each other and work off each other.”
Gurley said he’s never talked to Marshall about who the best back was in North Carolina.
“Hey, I got my state championship, that’s all I wanted,” Gurley said. “You can’t do too much more. That was my goal when I got there. Three years in a row.”
Richt said coaches will “find out what he can do as fast as we can find it out. Hopefully, through the month of June and July he will learn as much as he possibly can from (Aaron) Murray and the other backs.
“Then just get him out there, and let’s see what he can do. Usually it’s not long before you see what kind of runner they are, and if they’ve got enough skills at that level then you’re in a race to get him to learn how to pass protect and all that kind of stuff. But we’re going to give him as much of a chance as anybody.”