ATHENS — So many players in Brian Herrien’s position took the other route. They didn’t hold out for their dream school. They didn’t put faith in their ability to reach seemingly unattainable grades and test scores. They let the dream die.
Herrien could have done that. He could have gone the junior college route and tried to get into Georgia in a couple years. But he had his heart set on Georgia.
“Why take the long route when I can take the short route?” Herrien said.
That quote proved to be a fitting description for more than just his journey to Georgia.
It was a storybook moment: The very first time Herrien touched the ball as a college football player he scored a touchdown. And it wasn’t in garbage time of a guarantee game, either. It was last season’s opener against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome.
“I remember everything right before the play,” Herrien said. “Coach [Kirby] Smart, when they told me to go in, he said: ‘We trust you, we love you.’ I said all right, I’m about to go in here and I’m about to run it.”
Georgia was at the North Carolina 19-yard line. It was a tie game midway through the second quarter. The play call: toss sweep to the right.
“It was one of my favorite plays,” Herrien said. “When they tossed it to me I looked and they started cutting the defense down, there was nothing out there except a safety coming across the top, and I knew I could beat him.”
Herrien would go on to be Georgia’s third-leading rusher last season, with 363 yards on 63 carries. Pretty good for someone who qualified late academically and was far down the tailback rankings in the 2016 class. Georgia, a program used to getting premium 5-star recruits at tailback, unearthed a gem who was a 3-star prospect.
“From the start you could tell he was a great player,” teammate Nick Chubb said, recounting his first impression of Herrien last year. “You’re right, we didn’t hear much about him. I’m proud that he’s here; he’s a great player.”
It remains to be seen how active a role Herrien will play going forward. Georgia, you may have heard, has two great senior tailbacks in Chubb and Sony Michel, a very impressive freshman in D’Andre Swift, and has secured the commitment of 5-star prospect Zamir White.
“We’re loaded,” Chubb said. “So many great backs. We have to compete every day. Those guys are really, really good.”
But Herrien’s skill set is keeping him involved. He has 15 carries for 56 yards this season, including two carries in the Notre Dame game. He hasn’t been very active in the passing game, but Smart has talked about using Herrien’s size, speed and athleticism in the that part of the offense.
Whatever Herrien’s future holds, his path to Georgia was quite remarkable.
At first he didn’t have the grades at New Manchester High School, or the ACT score, to qualify academically. That caused plenty of college programs to back off. But Smart and Georgia’s staff stayed on him.
“There was no giving up,” Herrien said. “I knew when they told me that I had to get straight A’s and get my ACT higher by two points, I knew I could do it,” Herrien said. “I told them when they were interviewing me then, there’s no second option. I’m going to get the job done.”
Indeed, Herrien’s grades have been good since he got to UGA. Why? He had a simple answer.
“College is easier to me than high school,” Herrien said.
“It’s just easy,” he said.
When pressed, Herrien explained.
“The only thing that really changed for me was when I got into school, when I got to college, to make sure I stayed on top of my grades and never let myself get below,” Herrien said. “So I try to stay on top of everything. That’s all I do.”