Georgia RB Gurley expects to build on phenomenal freshman season

Todd Gurley had one of the best seasons for a Georgia running back in program history last year — and he was only a true freshman.

Todd Gurley had one of the best seasons for a Georgia running back in program history last year — and he was only a true freshman.

ATHENS — Todd Gurley insists none of it has gone to his head, the Maxwell and Doak Walk award mentions, the All-America predictions, the preseason first-team All-SEC selections. The only thing different from last year to this is the dreads on his head are a little longer and thicker, as is the knowledge in the brain beneath them.

“I’m the same, man,” Gurley said as Georgia’s preseason practices got under way this week. “I mean, I’ve paid attention to it, but it’s not like, ‘oh, man, I’ve got to get All-American’ or whatever the awards are. I’m just going in, me and my teammates and, I forgot the motto but we got our little motto, and we’re going to stick together.”

Gurley broke into a laugh at his inability to recall this year’s team motto. He tried again to force it out of his memory banks. “One team, one dream... no, one team, new year... . I don’t know, I’m going to get it before camp is over with.”

Gurley laughed again, as did the reporters surrounding him. The actual motto is, “New Year, New Team, One Dream.” But Gurley’s recollection aside, he communicates at least one message clearly: He’s not taking himself too seriously.

And that has to be considered a good sign for the Bulldogs. One of the drawbacks — and there are few — of rushing for nearly 1,400 yards, scoring 18 touchdowns and earning consensus freshman All-America honors is all the outside “noise” that can come with it. Can you run down Herschel Walker’s single-season rushing record (1,891 yards)? Can you best Garrison Hearst’s single-season TD record (21)? How soon will you turn pro?

Whether he’s parroting coaches’ instruction or it’s self-taught humility from his upbringing in Tarboro, N.C., Gurley seems sincerely focused on team goals and nothing else.

“As long as the team is winning, I could care less about anything, really,” Gurley said. “When they score, I score, we all score, and I’m just happy for the team. Hopefully I’ll match or get higher or at least get close to what I had last year. But if I don’t, it doesn’t matter as long as we win the games.”

Gurley said he knows it’s unlikely that he will be able to duplicate his rushing production from last season (1,385 yards). Opponents will be scheming for him and his best friend and roommate, Keith Marshall, is deserving of even more carries than he had a year ago, when he had 105 fewer than Gurley’s 222.

Heading into their sophomore seasons, Gurley remains the undisputed No. 1 tailback. But all involved insist that means little more than he trots onto the field first.

“I think both of them want to be what would be considered a ‘lead back,’” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. But they’re good friends and they wanted to share the load. They didn’t want to be in a situation where they had to carry the ball 25 to 30 times a game.”

It was tough enough carrying it an average of 16 and 8 times a game, respectively. Both players have spoken of the toll taken on their bodies by season’s end.

“I tried to stay in treatment and do yoga and all that stuff, but it doesn’t matter,” Gurley said. “Being a running back, you’re going to get hit and you know you’re going to have those nagging injuries. You’re never going to be 100 percent. It’s your job to prepare your body right: Lift, sleep, stretch, whatever you have to do to get it right. I think I handled that pretty good. Hopefully I’ll stay healthier this year.”

Regardless of individual production, Gurley intends to be better this season. A year-plus in the program, he’s stronger than he was and he says his knowledge of the offense is “light years” ahead of where he was a year ago. He wants to perfect his pass-protection techniques and elevate his game as a receiver out of the backfield. Whether it will translate into more yards or not is immaterial.

“What happened last year is last year,” Gurley said. “We got all those yards or whatever but everybody in the country starts at zero. So you have to build yourself back up. You can’t go off last year because it’s a new year and anything can happen. ...

“We just go out there and ball. That’s all we know.”

Perhaps that should be the team motto.