ATHENS, Ga. – To hear Isaiah Crowell say it now, everything is good.
He’s now healthy, happy and eager to take the next step after his freshman year at Georgia.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Crowell said after Saturday’s practice. “I’m going to remember the mistakes I made, the good things I did. All I’ve got to stay in my mind is to keep working hard and be the best teammate and person I can be. … I’m happy here (at Georgia). I knew there’s rumors about me wanting to transfer and stuff like, but I never said that.”
Crowell has been going through bowl practices this week full speed after dealing with a number of injury issues late in the season, worst of all a sprained ankle against Kentucky that kept him out of the Georgia Tech game and limited him against LSU.
After a short time to rest, Crowell says he is now “like 95 percent, almost 100.”
The Outback Bowl against Michigan State will end a freshman season that has featured occasional highs and troubling lows for Crowell, complete with two suspensions, injury problems and conditioning that caused him to exit games.
“I’ve just got to work at it more, I guess,” Crowell said.
All of the above could be reasons that despite rushing for 847 yards this season to lead the Bulldogs and earn SEC freshman of the year honors by media vote, Crowell is still competing for a starting job entering the final game.
During position drills Saturday, senior Richard Samuel (who is still recovering from ankle surgery but expected to play in Tampa) ran with the first offense while redshirt freshman Ken Malcome was with the second group.
Richard Samuel says he'll be able to play in the Outback Bowl after recovering from ankle surgery.
“All backs have a sense of urgency,” Samuel said Saturday. “We have to get back and make the running game a factor and part of a gameplan. Everybody is in there trying to get better and practice hard and show, ‘OK, our backfield is still OK.’”
Samuel didn’t do much in practice Saturday, according to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who basically said the order at this exact moment is Malcome No. 1, Crowell No. 2 and Brandon Harton at No. 3.
Carlton Thomas has also been out of action this week with a knee sprain lingering from the loss to LSU.
“It’s hard to have a real full-fledged competition when (Samuel and Thomas) aren’t getting any reps,” Bobo said.
Speaking about Crowell, Samuel called this season “just a learning curve” for the freshman tailback and former national No. 1 recruit.
Crowell doesn’t necessarily disagree, saying his goal now is, “I think I need to be more accountable and just handle my responsibilities better. … My teammates and coaches are counting on me to do what I’m supposed to do, just different stuff.”
“Isaiah’s done real well,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “He’s a freshman. A lot of mistakes freshmen make, but at times he’s shown that he can be one of the best backs in this league. He’s going to continue to push and strive to become better and become a more consistent player. I’ve been real pleased with his practice (the last couple of days). He’s a kid with a lot of talent.”
Whether it is Crowell’s hype, ability or the rough track record of some of his predecessors at tailback for Georgia, rumors have dogged him, as well as a celebrity that already exceeds the majority of his older, more experienced teammates.
“That's tough on a kid that young,” UGA coach Mark Richt said. “I'm pretty much of a full grown man I think most of the time. That's kind of hard to get used to myself.”
“I want to be a regular person just like anybody else,” Crowell said. “I guess you’ve got to watch what you do and be aware of everybody who’s around you. … “I’ve always got to worry about whether somebody’s watching. Not even if you’re doing anything bad. Even if you’re just pumping some gas, somebody taking pictures or something.”
Uncertainty at tailback has dogged UGA for a while now, leading to celebrations over a commitment recently by Keith Marshall, the nation’s No. 1 tailback recruit for 2012.
Crowell said he has spoken to Marshall before but never met him.
“Really, I’m happy to get another guy,” Crowell said. “I thought we needed more running backs. I think that’s a good thing.”