ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia’s Todd Gurley is uncomfortable in front of the cameras.
He sure doesn’t seek a lot of attention.
Well, the junior running back better get used to it if he keeps playing like he did in a 45-21 victory over Clemson.
Stamping himself as an early contender in the Heisman Trophy race, Gurley scored four touchdowns, set a school record with 293 all-purpose yards, and prompted coach Mark Richt to declare “he’s the best player in America.”
No argument from the Tigers.
“Gurley is obviously as good as it gets,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He is a great, great football player.”
For Richt, the most impressive thing about Gurley is not the sprinter’s speed he showed on a 100-yard kickoff return, but the yards he picked up after the initial hit. The 226-pounder is almost impossible to bring down with one defender, usually requiring two of three tacklers to get him on the ground.
“We blocked pretty good,” Richt said, “but he blasted through a lot of tackles and kept going.”
There’s a playful side to Gurley that his teammates see, and he’s always quick to praise his linemen for opening up his running lanes. During preseason drills, he brought them a chocolate cake to show his appreciation. After his scores against Clemson, he quickly took the celebration to the big guys in front of him.
“He knows he couldn’t do without us,” center David Andrews said. “He’s a special guy. He doesn’t let all this get to his head. He knows he needs everyone.”
During his sessions with the media, Gurley is polite but always looks a bit uneasy. His answers are usually short and rarely enlightening, as though he doesn’t really understand why someone would want to talk to him.
A few days before Saturday’s opening game, Gurley was asked if the responsibilities that go along with being one of the top players in the country are as anguishing as they seem.
“I don’t know, man,” he replied. “I mean, I do it like every week. Obviously it gets old. It’s not like this is our profession. I didn’t come here to do interviews. I came to play football. But it’s cool, whatever.”
Clearly, Gurley is a lot more comfortable on the field.
He made the most of his limited touches on a sweltering night between the hedges, averaging 17.2 yards every time he got his hands on the ball and breaking Rodney Hampton’s school record of 290 all-purpose yards, set in 1987.
In addition to the kickoff return for a score, he ran 15 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns. He reached the end zone on runs of 23, 18 and 51 yards, showing both the speed and power that makes him such a unique player.
Most important, he was healthy.
Gurley endured an injury- plagued sophomore season, hurting his quadriceps in the opener against Clemson (carrying only 12 times in a 38-35 loss) and later missing three games with a sprained ankle. He came up just short of 1,000 yards rushing after gaining nearly 1,400 yards on the ground as a freshman, drawing comparisons to all those great Georgia backs from years past, players such as Hampton and Heisman winner Herschel Walker.
“Having those nagging leg injuries, man, that holds you back,” Gurley said. “It’s always good to start the season off healthy.”
Now, to keep it going.
The No. 12 Bulldogs (1-0) are off next weekend, then hit the road for another crucial game against ninth-ranked South Carolina (0-1). The Gamecocks will be eager to turn around things after an embarrassing 52-28 home loss to Texas A&M.
Gurley is eager to do even more.
“Hopefully I can get better,” he said. “I don’t want to stay the same every week. That’s not a good thing.”