AUGUSTA, Ga. — Garrison Hearst left Georgia in 1992 as the Bulldogs’ second-leading all-time rusher. While a lot has changed since — he’s now fourth, separated from Herschel Walker by two guys named Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb — some things stay the same.
“Georgia running backs always set the tone,” Hearst said on Tuesday night in Augusta. “You watch Georgia games, if we got a horse, he’s setting the tone. Period. As he goes, the team goes. The offense goes.
“That’s what Georgia does.”
Georgia has had a stable of horses since Hearst departed for the NFL after three seasons in Athens. The pride of being in such an exclusive fraternity of stars doesn’t elude Hearst to this day.
“It’s one of the reasons I went,” he said. “One of the reasons I went to Georgia, one of the reasons I went into any NFL locker room, you can hold your head up and talk shit.
” ‘Cause Georgia running backs — it speaks for itself.”
Garrison Hearst’s college stats
Hearst has more in common with Georgia’s recent batch of running backs than most realize. The two biggest names at the position in Athens in the last decade — Gurley and Chubb — each suffered devastating knee injuries while in college. Gurley’s ACL tear ended his Georgia career, and he declared for the NFL draft following his junior season (like Hearst).
Chubb’s injury came in 2015, his sophomore season, but he returned in 2016 and elected to remain at Georgia for his senior season in 2017.
“Initially, I thought he was working back — more working back mentally than physically,” Hearst said about Chubb. “Sometimes I thought, not sure if he trusts everything. But what can you expect? I’ve had those injuries. That mental side is the part you forget first.”
No one knows about that mental side of recovery better than Hearst.
While on the San Francisco 49ers, Hearst suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the 1998 NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons. That injury cost him two years of his NFL career, and took away the momentum from a dominant 1998 season in which he totaled 1,570 rushing yards and 535 receiving yards.
In 2001, Hearst returned and was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year as he rushed for 1,206 yards.
Now, Hearst is reflecting more on college than his pro career. That’s understandable, considering Georgia’s 2017 season begins against Appalachian State on Saturday.
Hearst is bullish on the Dawgs, too.
“I think they’ll be great,” Hearst said. “When you said defense, that’s what I’ve been saying to everybody. We shouldn’t have to count on the quarterback. The defense we’re going to have, I don’t care if the team scores 15, 10, in a game. I don’t care. It’s just win.
“And the defense is going to save them more than anything this year.”
Interview conducted by DawgNation reporter Jeff Sentell.