ATHENS – Ken Malcome will start at tailback for Georgia in today’s season opener against Buffalo. But he’s not the player 90,000-plus Bulldogs fans Sanford Stadium are clamoring to see.
That would be the two dynamic freshmen from North Carolina, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.
But Malcome earned the job fair and square. His consistent play and tough-running style earned him the nod over the two newbies and grizzled veteran Richard Samuel. But the Bulldogs could not be happier for him for Boo — freshman dynamos included.
“I’m very happy for Ken,” said Marshall, a five-star prospect who was rated the No. 1 running back by ESPN and 24/7 Sports. “I love that dude. He’s kind of like a big brother. He looks out for me and Todd and makes sure we know everything, so I’m happy for him. I hope he does well.”
Said Gurley: “I knew that Ken was the starter coming in. Just to be in the running for the starting position was good with me. That’s my teammate. I love all those guys, and we’re not selfish at all. So congrats to him. Seriously.”
It was Gurley and Marshall that were garnering most of the headlines in preseason camp. Gurley had nearly twice the rushing yards (199) and touchdowns (4) of the other tailbacks (Malcome 117-1, Marshall 63-1, Samuel 50-1) during the Bulldogs’ three preseason scrimmages. Throw in his dreadlocks and No. 3 jersey and teammates soon were comparing him with former Alabama star Trent Richardson.
Marshall was no slouch either. He averaged 12.4 yards per carry in Scrimmage No. 2, and senior linebacker Christian Robinson was still raving this past week about the “juke move” he used that sent two defenders falling to the ground.
But those inside the Bulldogs’ locker room also say Malcome deserved the start.
“I’m excited for Ken,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “He finished the season off strong last year, had a great offseason, a great summer and he has done a tremendously good job in camp. I know he was pumped up when Coach announced it last week. He was ready to go.”
Said coach Mark Richt: “I’m really proud of him. … The book on his career hasn’t been fully written, but at the rate he’s going, if he continues to progress like he has, it’s going to be a wonderful story.”
A lot of people are rooting for Malcome these days. His story is well-chronicled.
Disgruntled over the lack of playing time, he abruptly quit the team last September. Richt said good-bye, but before he did he told Malcome he could come back if he changed his mind — and his attitude.
“I asked him if we had really seen the best Ken Malcome and he ought to show himself his best and then decide what to do,” Richt recalled. “… I told him that if he wanted to come back, I wanted to see his best, not only in the field but also in the classroom and everywhere else.”
That ended up being a pivotal conversation for Malcome. He came back less than 48 hours later, and he returned a different person.
“I’ve matured,” Malcome said. “You still have problems, but maturity shows you that you’ve got to keep going, and that’s what I’ve been doing. That’s why a lot of things turned around for me.”
Malcome’s turnaround began late last season. The tailback position was weakened by injuries and suspensions. By default, he got his first start in November against Georgia Tech. He finished with only 39 yards rushing on 12 carries, but helped salt away a victory with several hard runs in the fourth quarter.
Malcome also started against Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. He got lost in the pass-happy shootout, but finished with a team-leading 51 yards on 12 carries. He’s still waiting to record his first career touchdown.
Malcome said he was as nervous as he’s been in his life before the Tech game last year, but less so for the bowl. As for Saturday, it’s hardly registering a blip.
“I’ve been here three years and I know the offense now, so it shouldn’t affect me,” said Malcome, who was named the team’s most improved offensive player after spring practice. “I’m pretty comfortable this time around, and I think people will see a difference in the way I play.”
But Malcome realizes the excitement in the Bulldog Nation is over the two newbies. He’s excited, too.
“I’ll tell you what, they’re way ahead of where I was as a freshman,” Malcome said.
And they’re every bit as eager to show their stuff.
“I’m definitely looking forward to my opportunity,” Marshall said. “I’m going to try to make the best of it. I’m going to make sure I know what I’m supposed to do and play 100 percent every play.”
Said Gurley: “I’m just ready to get out there and let the fans get what they’ve been waiting for. Hopefully we can give them what they want.”
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