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September 10, 2013
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Todd Gurley shrugs off questions from reporters about his play just as easily as he sheds would-be tacklers on the field.
Even when reminded that former teammate and current Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Jarvis Jones tweeted this message Saturday night - "Lol, I told y'all!!! Gurley for Heisman. I said it first" - he hardly flinched.
Jones hasn't been the only one tossing bouquets Gurley's way after two games into the 2013 campaign. Like Jones, some are starting to suggest him as a possible candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
However, when it comes to basking in any spotlight or accepting any praise, the Georgia sophomore would just as soon find a seat in the shade.
"That's what they think, it's whatever," Gurley said. "It's a good thing. We'll see how far that goes."
As for even giving a potential Heisman Trophy run a second thought, his answer is predictable.
"Not really," he added. "If it happens, it happens. Whatever."
There's nothing about Gurley's performance to date that suggests 'whatever.'
In two games, Gurley has carried the football 42 times for 286 yards and three touchdowns, which ranks him second in the SEC behind Arkansas freshman Alex Collins (45-303).
He even caught his first touchdown pass last week, an 8-yarder from quarterback Aaron Murray in the Bulldogs' 41-30 win over South Carolina.
"That's just one thing that we (Murray and Gurley) talked about, just to get more receptions. I know that was one of our personal goals," Gurley said. "I really didn't have many but that was one, just to get more receptions and have a bigger impact in the passing game."
But it's what Gurley continues to do with his legs that has everyone enamored with Gurleymania.
Watch him go
"Just watching Gurley run was fun," Bulldog head coach Mark Richt said after Gurley's 132-yard effort in the ninth-ranked Bulldogs 41-30 win over South Carolina. "He's just a powerful back who's got great balance."
That's true. But despite being 232 pounds, he's also plenty fast, too as evidenced by his 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson when he outran the Tiger safety who appeared to have a proper angle to make a play.
Rivals.com recruiting analyst Mike Farrell certainly isn't surprised to see that.
"I knew he would keep his speed because he's a track guy, he was always very quick. The big question we had about him was his style of running; he was very upright. Could he take the punishment? He almost leaned back when he ran," Farrell recalled. "He's gotten rid of a little bit of that, but in high school he was Adrian Peterson, almost like leaning back. But the thing that really surprised was how fast he got around the edge. When you think you've got an angle on him, and he's turning the corner, he'll just out-run you."
Even Gurley admits he never expected success to come so soon.
However, when Isaiah Crowell was booted from the team in August prior to camp in 2012, Bulldog coaches needed someone to step up. Gurley and fellow freshman Keith Marshall did just that.
Marshall proved quite the impact back himself, rushing 117 times for 759 yards, but it was Gurley who stepped to the front of the line, rushing 222 times for 1,385 yards and scored a Georgia freshman record 17 touchdowns.
"I wasn't thinking about it (contributing) like that so soon," Gurley said. "My freshman year, I just came in and tried to do whatever I could to help."
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Two games into the current campaign, Gurley has two more 100-yard efforts under his belt giving him 11 in his short career, just two behind the 13 posted by Denver Bronco Knowshon Moreno.
"It's just a blessing. We've all worked hard, and it's just paying off," Gurley said. "We're just going out there and just doing what we do."
Uncomfortable with the media glare
Despite his success, it's clear the glare of the media spotlight is something Gurley would just as soon avoid.
Sit-down interviews with Bulldog beat writers remains one of his least favorite tasks.
During a recent session, Gurley's disdain was never more apparent than during an interview caught on video, one in which he came across as particularly dour.
But like everything else, he's learning to adjust.
"Comfortable? It's whatever," said Gurley, when asked if he's getting more comfortable with his weekly media duties. "I mean, not really. But Claude (sports information Claude Felton) told me to be nicer."
Ask him about his teammates and Gurley's mood brightens considerably.
Especially his offensive line.
"You're out there and they love it when you have a great run. It might be fun when you pass the ball, but when the line is blocking real hard and the running back is getting great numbers put up, they're having a great time," Gurley said. "They love doing what they do. It's a good thing."
Sophomore fullback Quayvon Hicks - all 265 pounds of him - also receives plenty of love.
"He does a great job blocking and he also has had some big catches these first two games," Gurley said. "He's come along real good, but he's going to keep improving and do better."
But even Gurley didn't see the Blackshear native making the impact as a ball carrier and a pass catcher that he so far has.
It's something he didn't see coming.
"No, man. I didn't know they'd be using him like that. In the passing game, you might as well say he's a tight end out there. He's doing a great job," he said. "Other teams are going to see that as a threat because you're also have our receivers and tight ends who can catch also. With the running backs and fullbacks, you're going to have to watch out for that too."
From unheralded prospect to a burgeoning star
A native of Tarboro, N.C. Gurley admits there is still a lot of small town inside his 6-foot-1 frame.
In the last U.S. census, the popular of Tarboro stood at 11,315 folks.
Although many of those folks quite likely knew of Gurley's exploits on the football field, it actually took a while for those on the outside to truly appreciate how good he was or could possibly be.
Because he rarely did camps where recruiting evaluators could assess his talent, Gurley was rated relatively low as a three-star performer following his senior year in high school.
"I was small town, man. (Class) 2A football ? nobody came from out there. There's nothing out there, really," Gurley said. "You've got Raleigh and Charlotte, around 30 schools and whole lot of athletes. That's where they play ball."
Farrell conceded Tarboro's location did initially play a role.
"Tarboro is not exactly easy to get to, and everybody liked Keith Marshall in a BIG way," Farrell said. "Everybody had Keith Marshall as a five-star kid. We didn't, and got a lot of grief for that."
But after seeing Gurley perform at the annual Shrine Bowl pitting the best from North Carolina against the best from South Carolina, Farrell's opinion quickly changed.
"I saw Todd Gurley at the Shrine Bowl. That's when I knew this kid was absolutely special. At the time, we (Rivals.com) were helping select the kids for the Army All-American game," Farrell said. "I tried to get him into that game, I contacted them but it was too late. They already had their running back pool, and I was like 'ugh', because this kid is really good."
Although Farrell was unable to get Gurley to San Antonio, he was able to help Gurley make what is believed to be one of the highest jumps ever in the final Rivals250 rankings when the running back went from outside the top 250 to No 42.
Looking back, however, Farrell said that still wasn't enough.
"One regret that I have is that I said at that time he (Gurley) was T.J. Yeldon - the same player. I should have ranked them accordingly," Farrell said. "We moved him from outside the 250 to No. 42, and I should have taken him that next step to a five-star. He's a special player."
Don't call me Junior
Unless you haven't been looking, there's a difference on the back of Gurley's No. 3 jersey this fall. It reads Gurley II.
"I tried to get it last year, but he (Director of Athletic Equipment John Meshad) didn't put it up there for me," smiled Gurley, who is named after his father.
"We've both got the same name. I tried to get it up there, but (Meshad) said 'if I do it for you I've got to do it for the whole team.' There's a lot of juniors, seconds and stuff," Gurley said. "So this year I told him I feel like I deserved it from last year and he said 'alright, I got you.'"
With Georgia approaching a bye week before its next game against North Texas on Sept. 21, the Bulldogs will obviously be counting on Gurley to 'have their back' the rest of the season. With one of the country's top quarterbacks in Murray, a deep group of receivers and an experienced offensive line, Gurley and company figure to be a scary proposition for opposing defensive coordinators this season.
"We've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things," Gurley said. "I just want to play my part."