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.
‚ÄúJust go to work,‚Äù Green said of his approach this week. ‚ÄúExecute plays in practice. Perfect them pretty much. That‚Äôs it.‚Äù
The nickname Gurshall was just about gone before the season when Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall didn‚Äôt embrace it. Now Marshall is gone and Gurley‚Äôs availability for Saturday‚Äôs game against No. 25 Missouri is uncertain due to a sprained ankle.
Georgia‚Äôs top tailback in their absence is someone who wasn‚Äôt even listed as a tailback when he got to Georgia as an early enrollee in January.
‚ÄúWe didn‚Äôt really think tailback,‚Äù 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.
‚ÄúEverybody I knew seemed to be calling,‚Äù 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.
‚ÄúI grew up playing running back at the age of 7,‚Äù Green said. ‚ÄúI was always a running back just playing a different position.‚Äù
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.
‚ÄúWe could tell as a young kid that he was special,‚Äù Herron said.
Green‚Äôs 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‚Äôs wing-T offense.
Herron was worried that, with Gurley and Marshall already at Georgia, Green wasn‚Äôt big enough for what Georgia needed him to do in the backfield. He had no worries about Green‚Äôs strength after seeing him bench and clean more than 300 pounds in high school.
‚ÄúJust freakishly strong for his size,‚Äù 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 ‚Äúa football player,‚Äù 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.
‚ÄúWe 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‚Äôs found a good home.‚Äù
Fellow freshman Brendan Douglas rushed for 25 yards on 10 carries Saturday and had a 32-yard catch on Georgia‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúIt turned out he‚Äôs a tough nut,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs smart, he‚Äôs tough. He‚Äôs a very good pass protector. We all know he‚Äôs not tall, but he‚Äôs strong. You see him finish the runs the way he does. He secured the ball extremely well and we know he‚Äôs got some wide receiver skills, too. He‚Äôs got some ability.‚Äù
‚ÄúThe opportunity has presented himself because of injuries,‚Äù Herron said, ‚Äúand I think he‚Äôs proven to everybody that he plays a whole lot bigger than maybe he actually is.‚Äù