J.J. Green already was getting his mind right for his expanded role for Georgia before official word came Sunday that tailback Keith Marshall was lost for the season with a torn ACL.
“Just go to work,” Green said of his approach this week. “Execute plays in practice. Perfect them pretty much. That’s it.”
The nickname Gurshall was just about gone before the season when Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall didn’t embrace it. Now Marshall is gone and Gurley’s availability for Saturday’s game against No. 25 Missouri is uncertain due to a sprained ankle.
Georgia’s top tailback in their absence is someone who wasn’t even listed as a tailback when he got to Georgia as an early enrollee in January.
“We didn’t really think tailback,” coach Mark Richt said.
The 5-foot-9, 183-pound Green certainly stepped in admirably as the featured back Saturday, rushing for 129 yards on 17 carries in a 34-31 overtime win against Tennessee, a game in which Gurley watched from the sideline and Marshall went out in the first quarter.
“Everybody I knew seemed to be calling,” said Jeff Herron, who coached Green at Camden County in Kingsland and is now in his first year at Prince Avenue Christian in Bogart.
Green always considered himself a running back and feels that is his natural position.
“I grew up playing running back at the age of 7,” Green said. “I was always a running back just playing a different position.”
Green was asked to play cornerback as a freshman at Camden County, where he started 15 games and helped his team to the Class AAAAA state championship.
“We could tell as a young kid that he was special,” Herron said.
Green’s uncle was on the coaching staff, so Green had been hanging around the program as a ball boy since he was 5.
Green could dominate a game. After his freshman year, he returned kicks and started at halfback in Camden County’s wing-T offense.
Herron was worried that, with Gurley and Marshall already at Georgia, Green wasn’t big enough for what Georgia needed him to do in the backfield. He had no worries about Green’s strength after seeing him bench and clean more than 300 pounds in high school.
“Just freakishly strong for his size,” Herron said.
Green was listed as an athlete by Georgia after he was one of 13 early enrollees. Most schools recruited the three-star prospect simply as “a football player,” Herron said.
Florida and Georgia Tech were among his other suitors.
Richt asked Herron before Georgia offered him what he thought his position was and Herron said he had the most impact as a running back because opposing offenses could run or pass away from him.
Georgia coaches viewed him as either a cornerback or wide receiver, Richt said.
“We kind of saw a need in the spring and he was willing to do it and he learned it and he actually was pretty darn good at it in the spring, so we feel like he’s found a good home.”
Fellow freshman Brendan Douglas rushed for 25 yards on 10 carries Saturday and had a 32-yard catch on Georgia’s late, game-tying drive.
Green averaged 7.6 yards per carry in the game and has rushed for 194 yards and a touchdown this season.
“It turned out he’s a tough nut,” Richt said. “He’s smart, he’s tough. He’s a very good pass protector. We all know he’s not tall, but he’s strong. You see him finish the runs the way he does. He secured the ball extremely well and we know he’s got some wide receiver skills, too. He’s got some ability.”
“The opportunity has presented himself because of injuries,” Herron said, “and I think he’s proven to everybody that he plays a whole lot bigger than maybe he actually is.”