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Todd Gurley’s return has people talking (and singing)

You won't hear from Georgia's Todd Gurley about returning to football field this week, but we've heard from just about everybody else about it. (UGA photo by Andy Harrison)

We won’t hear from Todd Gurley about returning to the field for Georgia this week, but we’ve heard from just about everybody else about it. (UGA photo by Andy Harrison)

ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Richt has been adamant this week about Saturday’s game being about the Bulldogs and not just about Todd Gurley being back. But it’s kind of hard to get away from that storyline when you’re talking about arguably the best player in college football, and certainly the best running back, playing for the first time since going to NCAA jail for taking money.

Even Richt couldn’t help but get a little nostalgic about Gurley on Wednesday. He talked about the first time the Bulldogs realized they had a truly special player in No. 3.

“It was two-a-days and it was the first time we had some live running on an inside drill,” Richt said, referring to August of 2012. “Team Run Drill, we call it. Just kind of watching him run, watching him break tackles, he was impressive. You were like, ‘whoa, there’s something to this guy.’ It didn’t take long once we put the pads on and starting to compete a little bit.”

Some might recall that it was Keith Marshall — not Gurley — that was the most highly-touted of the running backs to sign with Georgia that year. Marshall was rated a 5-star prospect by 247, Scout and ESPN and was the consensus No. 1 back in the nation coming out of Raleigh’s Millbrook High.

Not that Gurley was some kind of darkhorse. He was a consensus 4-star recruit and a few prescient analysts, such as 247’s Rusty Mansell, even stated at the time that Gurley was best of the two North Carolina guys on their way to Athens.

Since then, Gurley has rushed for 3,147 yards (6.54 ypc) and scored 34 touchdowns for the Bulldogs. And we’re all left to think about what might have been had he not missed seven games over the past two seasons.

Anyway, as we wind down the week of Gurley’s return, I figured I’d simply empty my notebook of all the commentary I’ve gotten on him this week from coaches, teammates and the opposition. Oh, and there’s a must-see video made by really big fan of Gurley’s at the very bottom.

After this, Coach Richt, we’ll focus hard on Saturday’s matchup with Auburn and all that’s on the line in that game, which is considerable.

Swann

Swann

Senior defensive back Damian Swann on what it means to have Gurley back …

“It means a lot. What Todd does for this team emotionally and as a leader, we need that from him. He’s one of the best if not the best player in college football right now. So when you’ve got that guy as a part of your team, how he can respond and how he can make a team react, that’s big for us. He’s been that way for a couple of years now. So having him back around full time now is going to be big for us.”

Swann on whether players were upset with Gurley for how his actions affected the team …

“Absolutely not. Everybody’s got their opinion on that. We’re just going to leave it at that. But not at all (from players), not one bit.

Mason

Mason

Senior quarterback Hutson Mason on how the Bulldogs handled Gurley’s loss ….

“It really just seemed like the whole team came together after we lost a pretty spectacular player everybody had to pick up their performance just a little bit. And it seemed like everybody did.”

Mason on whether there were concerns that Gurley might decide to move on …

“Yeah, I think there was. But I think it speaks high of Todd’s character and what this season means to him to keep fighting through that adversity. Because I know it’s been frustrating for him. I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I definitely think it was what some people were thinking could happen.”

Mason on what Gurley did to become ineligible …

“It’s just kind of unfortunate. We don’t look at it as a crime or anything. We don’t look at him as less of a person or anything. Everyone understands it’s not just going on here; it’s an issue all around college football. It’s hard for guys to be put in that in that situation and say no, especially in some of the environments these guys come front. It doesn’t make it right or wrong. It’s just hard.”

Mason on the impact of Gurley’s return …

“There’s a lot more chatter now that Todd’s back. He’s always chirping. So he just kind of brings that feeling to practice and to games where you know you’ve got your best player. It’s exciting when you know you’ve got a great weapon back. It’s an exciting time to be back home. Todd’s coming back and that’s what everyone’s making it out to be. But I’m just excited to have another really good player.”

Mason on how Gurley has looked in practice …

“I don’t plan on him missing a beat. He looks just as fresh and healthy as he’s ever looked to me. To be able to have not only him but (Nick) Chubb and Sony (Michel) and all those fresh legs, it’s been a while since we’ve had that.”

Andrews

Andrews

Senior center David Andrews on Gurley’s attitude …

“It’s not like Todd hasn’t been around. He’s been practicing every week. It’s not like he’s coming off an injury or something like that. He’s played all season. And Todd’s a gamer. He’s going to be ready to go and we’re just going to go out and do our thing.”

Andrews on whether Gurley apologized to the team …

“What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room. But it is what is. No one’s mad at Todd. We all love Todd and we’re just ready to play with him.”

Thornton

Thornton

Senior defensive lineman Mike Thornton on whether Gurley’s return has been a distraction ...

“I wouldn’t call it a distraction, because Todd’s never been that kind of guy, to put his personal things on us. It’s definitely going to be great to have him back and it’ll definitely going to be a boost to our team.”

Thornton on whether the NCAA suspension changed his perception of Gurley …

“It’s the same. It’s nothing against Todd. We all love Todd here. This is Georgia and we’re a family.”

Richt

Richt

Georgia coach Mark Richt or utilizing both Gurley and Chubb …

“Even before (Gurley) had the suspension our goal, our plan, was to run other backs in there. We’ve got other good backs. We wanted to keep everybody as fresh as possible throughout the game and hopefully really fresh in the fourth quarter, because we think it’ll be that type of ball game. And we go into every game really thinking that. So the goal is to try to spread the ball around as much as possible without keeping it from a guy that oughta be carrying it. But he’s going to get his share of carries, that’s for sure, and we’ll find ways to get him to touch the ball.

“Chubb obviously has done a wonderful job. And if Sony comes around to where he can perform well, he’ll get his chance, too. Brendan Douglas has had carries in just about every single game he’s been in. So we’ll spread it around. But we definitely want Todd to get it as much as he can handle.”

Richt on the effect losing Gurley had on the team …

“Well, the big thing, again, if something happens to a player — whether it’s injuries, suspension, whatever it might be — if you lose a guy, especially a great player like Todd or A.J. (Green), you know, you have no choice but to move on. You have no choice but to put the next best man in there and get after it. You know, I think Nick Chubb filled in pretty darn good. We didn’t have a huge drop-off at that position. Would we have been better off with Todd and Chubb and Sony and Marshall and everybody healthy and being able to share the load? Yes, there’s no doubt about it.

Richt on limiting media access amid Gurley’s return …

“I didn’t want it to become — I didn’t want to know everybody’s opinion on what they think about Todd being back. I want everybody to be excited about Todd being back, which I am and the rest of the team is and the staff is. But let’s focus on the game. Let’s focus on Georgia.”

Richt on what kind of shape Gurley is in after the four-game suspension …

“He’s been practicing. He’s been getting extra work in the weight room, getting extra work running on his own or apart from the team. But, you know, it’s a little bit different than playing games and being in football shape. I think he’ll be in good condition. If I knew he had to carry it 38 times and catch five balls, how would he do that? I don’t know for sure. But hopefully he won’t have to have that many touches.

Richt on Gurley’s attitude during his suspension …

“Todd did a great job when he did practice, when he did get reps, of going really hard. His body language didn’t show anything like, ‘oh, I’m feeling sorry for myself,’ or this, that or the other. He showed up, he worked hard. And Todd’s a guy that’ll chirp out stuff here and there, just keep things light, keep everybody going, you know. He didn’t just shut down for that month. He kept trying to help his teammates get through practice, because practices aren’t a whole lot of fun all the time. So I haven’t seen a big difference really.

Wright

Wright

Richt on whether Gurley apologized to the team …

“He apologized in the media, his comments (in the reinstatement news release) was a public apology. You know, he wanted to move on after that. We tried not to make a big deal about it. We tried to just keep working, try to keep focusing. And, you know, like I said, football is a team game, and obviously Todd’s a big part of our team and a big part of our program, one of the best players in America.

Auburn defensive lineman Gabe Wright on Gurley’s return …

Johnson

Johnson

“He’s a great player and he’s a guy that doesn’t hold nothing back. I see him getting drafted early in the draft, if that’s what he chooses to do. He’s an excellent talent.”

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson on stopping Gurley …

“Nobody’s stopped him and some of them slowed him down a little bit. The only guy that stopped him was the autograph guy.”

And, finally, from a mother in Durham, N.C., on Gurley being back …


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