Following is a story on Georgia freshman tailback Todd Gurley that ran in Thursday’s print section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Below you will find some bonus commentary from Tarboro High School coach Jeff Craddock that was unable to fit into the story. . . .
ATHENS — Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon remembers distinctly when he first got the heads up about the big back from Tarboro, N.C.
McClendon had just come off the road during an open recruiting period and planned to spend a couple of days around the house when he got a call from a coach in North Carolina. That coach told McClendon, “I’ve seen this guy, and I really think you need to check him out.”
Skeptical at first, McClendon asked the coach to send him some video so he could get a look. A video file arrived via email a short time later and McClendon decided to check it out before he forgot.
“I called that coach that same day and said, ‘hey, I’m going to be up there tomorrow,’” McClendon said. “I flew up there the next day.”
That was the spring of 2011, and it was the first time McClendon laid eyes on Todd Gurley. Seventeen months later the freshman tailback has been the talk of the Bulldogs’ preseason. So while Gurley’s performance has been a surprise to many, it hasn’t been to McClendon or to the coach who made that call.
“As soon as I saw the film, I knew he was a guy who had everything you wanted,” McClendon said.
Georgia’s early interaction with Gurley helped the Bulldogs land the four-star prospect over Clemson, North Carolina and at least a dozen other serious suitors. Nine days before the Bulldogs’ season opener, it’s clear that the 6-foot-1, 218-pound speedster will at least be in Georgia’s tailback rotation this season. That is, if he doesn’t become the first freshman since Danny Ware in 2004 to start an opener at tailback for the Bulldogs.
“I’m not at all surprised that Todd is doing this well,” said Jeff Craddock, who won three consecutive state championships with Gurley at Tarboro High. “I told Todd from Day 1, if he stays humble and he stays healthy that I’ll be watching him play in the NFL. I really believe that about him.”
Gurley gained just under 4,000 yards and scored 65 touchdowns in two seasons as a starting halfback at Tarboro. In his last high school game he rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns to win the Class AA state championship.
“He’s a hard-working kid who has been blessed with tremendous size and speed and talent,” Craddock said. “I’ve been able to watch him for four years. There was no question in my mind he was going to go down there and do great things. What people are seeing now I think is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Of course, Gurley hasn’t really done anything yet. All he’s done to this point is out-gain Georgia’s other tailbacks 2-to-1 in two scrimmages. Including two pass receptions, he had 167 yards and three touchdowns on 15 touches. Incumbent starter Ken Malcome, a sophomore, was next with 67 yards on 10 attempts.
But Gurley’s unique combination of power and speed — he was an IAAF World Youth semifinalist in the 110-meter hurdles in France in 2010 — has teammates comparing him with former Alabama star Trent Richardson.
“I think he probably compared me to him because I wear No. 3 and I have dreads like Trent Richardson,” Gurley said with a laugh. “I have a long, long, long way to go to be like Trent Richardson. But for one of the key leaders on the team to call me that, that’s big.”
It was a fellow signee from North Carolina — Raleigh’s Keith Marshall — who created all the buzz in Georgia’s 2012 recruiting class. Marshall was considered the nation’s No. 1-rated running back prospect by more than one major recruiting site and he committed to Georgia well before Gurley did. But few were aware that Gurley and Marshall had made a pact to attend the same college.
Said Marshall: “We wanted to go to the same school. . . . We thought we can really make each other better. Rarely does one guy carry the load, so that’s not something we’re worried about.”
McClendon didn’t learn the two backs were buddies until later. Needless to say, he was excited to find out.
“They were sort of joined at the hip through all that track stuff they do,” McClendon said. “Both of those guys are big track guys. Todd was running on the USA team over there and Europe and Keith has all the super-fast track times as well. So they were connected through that. Not only that, they grew up an hour apart and went on a bunch of recruiting things together. So they knew it. That was something they worked out, that they wanted to play with each other. I found that out after we were already going after both of them, so it worked out good for us.”
At the time, Isaiah Crowell was still in the Bulldogs’ plans. Of course, he was kicked off the team in June after a felony weapons arrest. But McClendon said they never considered not signing both Gurley and Marshall if they were willing to come.
“Those guys? No,” he said. “You were going to take both those guys no matter what.”
Tarboro High School head coach Jeff Craddock had a lot to say about his former pupil. Following are some of the highlights:
On what makes him special . . .
“He’s a hard-working kid who has been blessed with tremendous size and speed and talent. I’ve been able to watch him for four years and there was no question to me he was going to go down there and do great things. What people are seeing now I think is just the tip of the iceberg. He’s just going to continue to get bigger, faster and stronger and get more comfortable in that system. I think he’s just going to be phenomenal to watch. People down in Georgia are going to be pleased as long as Todd Gurley is there.”
On Gurley being soft-spoken . . .
“He’s a humble guy and he gets it. He knows what he has is a special gift from the Lord and he understands that. He’s going to make everybody back home very proud.”
On going to the same school as Marshall . . .
“When me and Todd talked about recruiting, I told him, ‘it doesn’t matter who is going to the school you want to go to. That doesn’t make a difference. Your choice needs to be about what you think is the best fit for you. If they sign four of the best running backs in the nation and you still want to go there, then go there and beat them all out. Go to a school you want to play at.’ And Georgia filled the bill.”
On comparisons of Marshall and Gurley . . .
“I watched Keith Marshall from afar and he is a tremendous running back. Of course, I’m biased, but I did tell Coach Richt when Todd signed, I said, ‘I know what everybody in the country is telling you, but I’m telling you, now you’ve got the best running back in the country.’ That’s what I believe. Now Keith Marshall is great and I hope they’re a great one-two punch and I know they get along wonderfully. I just believe Todd wasn’t getting the credit he deserved.”
On Gurley’s recruiting rankings . . .
“He was a 3-star for a while and I’m thinking, ‘my God, if my guy is a 3-star, show me what a 4- or 5-star player looks like.’ Again, I know I’m biased, but I thought if Todd Gurley wasn’t a 5-star running back, then I must be missing the boat.”
On Gurley’s recruitment . . .
“I think he was kind of overlooked, which is fine. It didn’t bother Todd. Todd’s going to be Todd. He’s going to work hard and be humble. He’s going to be something special. I believe that with all my heart.”
On Gurley playing junior varsity as a sophomore . . .
“I don’t think he ever had a carry. We saw early he was something special. But what people don’t understand, the year we pulled him up as a sophomore, we won the state championship. We had a great stable of running backs who were seniors. We went about five deep and we went 15-1, so I was comfortable with them. I pulled him up for the playoffs, he was on kickoff returns and we got him on the field. He had a few carries. But I was blessed to have talent in front of him and could afford to keep him on JV. Of course, he dominated in JV ball. Sometimes it was just unfair. The JV team went 10-0. He came up as a junior and he started and played like we thought he would.”
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