Thursday, December 8, 2011
Crowell and Marshall: Shoulder To Shoulder
In my years on the UGA football team, I met a lot of young men. When there's over 120 players on your team, and there's turnover every season, you're greeted by new faces in the locker room every few months. Some appear in the fall, some appear in the winter...some show up for the first time during the summer. It's not an every-year thing...it seems to be an every-season thing. I met guys my first spring at UGA who were gone before school let out. Some went to greener pastures in places like Oklahoma. Some went to smaller schools to begin working towards a coaching career. Some just gave the sport up altogether. I made some friends in those days, a few that I keep up with. We talk on facebook, we chatter on twitter...and on the rare occasion that I return to Athens, I am always sure to bump into someone at a bar, or at the stadium. I've even run into one or two in Los Angeles from time to time.
We aren't the best of friends. A few of these guys, in fact, may have absolutely hated me. But, when we see each other, we do have the common bond of Bulldog Blood that will always run through our veins. It's more than attending the University, though I don't want to discount the love that so many of the fans hold as a result of that. It's more than simply playing the sport, though playing it at any level definitely gives you perspective on what goes on. No, there is something special about the sweat that drips from you in Butts Mehre. There's something remarkable about the blood you shed on the Woodruff fields. There's something forever changing about your whole self the first time you run from that tunnel in Sanford Stadium and are hit by a wall of sound from over 90,000 screaming fans.
These are the things that MAKE a Georgia Bulldog. You put your heart, your soul, your body on the line - and the guy next to you does the same. John Stinchcomb had a nickname for me - he called me "Duke Nukem"... it was because I was the annoying walk-on who tried to blow him up on every snap in practice - whether we were "full contact" or 3/4 speed. It didn't matter. The way I saw it, I had to go all-out: I was a 230 lb DE. He and some of the other linemen surely tired of it...but I kept pushing. I felt like they hated me.
But, when I trotted onto the field against Ole Miss my senior year, to play some mop-up fourth quarter downs, John yelled at me, "Hey Dukes....Nuke 'em." Funny how that's something that sticks with you. Even those who appear to be your adversaries can be your greatest supporters.
Now, I am not writing this entry to tell you about me. Honestly, my experiences at UGA probably did very little to progress our program. But, I am writing this so that those out there who have already written off Isaiah Crowell and are looking to Keith Marshall as the only possible future for our TB position will take heed. Marshall is going to enroll in January. He and Crowell will go through their first off-season workouts together. Sure, Samuel and Harton and Thomas will have been through it, and will offer their leadership...but I think the relationship between Crowell and Marshall will be the most compelling story of the winter. These guys, who will be in competition for not only a job, but also the admiration of a fickle fanbase, will be shoulder-to-shoulder in drills. They will have to run together. They will have to lift together. They may have to monkey-roll together, I don't really know. What I do know - is they will have plenty of time around one another. This time will be valuable. They will come to learn that when the chips are down, they can count on one another. At some point during the 2012 season, it's going to come down to a moment when one of these guys has to look the other in the eye and say, "Hey - this is why we went through all that pain in January and February. This is why we got up at 4am. This is why we took pictures of all our meals. This is why we worked ourselves to exhaustion - to be right here, right now, with this opportunity. Now, YOU get out there and finish this thing off. I'll get the next one."
The fanbase is creating a competition in its collective mindset, and it is already beginning to suggest that Crowell will crumble under the pressure and leave town. I don't see that happening. I see Crowell fighting to keep his job. I see him working hard in the weight room and on the practice fields. I see him working to become the back he believes he can be...because what he believes he can be is an NFL back, and there's not a better place to be if you want to prove that. Even our third-stringers end up with Super Bowl rings (no, seriously...look it up you'll be impressed). I also see Marshall coming in with the mindset that he can play right away. He wants to split carries, and he wants to be in an offense where he can use his skillset to its greatest potential. He has this at UGA. The fanbase wants to set these guys up as adversaries. In reality, they're teammates - shoulder to shoulder.
Adversaries? They'll face 14 of them - and I'm willing to bet they'll Nuke 'em.