ATLANTA — Whenever Elijah Holyfield went into games for the Bulldogs last season, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel took notice. Things tended to happen when the stout running back from College Park, Ga., got the football, and it usually involved Holyfield’s body going in one direction and opposing defenders going the other.
“He always scored,” Chubb said while autographing pictures at the DawgNation Appreciation event Thursday night at the Roxy. “Every time he went in, I’d call out to Sony, ‘Hey, watch this, he’s gonna score.’ And he usually did.”
Actually, it just seemed like it. Holyfield scored only 2 touchdowns as a sophomore, but they were both impressive, awe-inspiring runs. He had a 15-yard run against Vanderbilt and a 39-yard jaunt against Florida. That they came in the fourth quarter of blowouts was immaterial.
Holyfield also opened some eyes with a 90-yard kickoff return against Notre Dame. It was called back because of a debatable holding call on the play. Nevertheless, Holyfield displayed both power and speed. Holyfield ended up averaging 5.9 yards on 50 carries as a sophomore.
And that’s what Chubb and Michel saw from Holyfield every day in practice. As Georgia’s featured backs, they were rarely asked to engage in much contact in practice. That task usually fell in the hands of Holyfield and Brian Herrien, and to a slightly lesser degree, D’Andre Swift.
With Chubb and Michel now headed to the NFL, somebody else will take over as the Bulldogs’ primary running back in 2018. Most believe that responsibility will fall to Swift, who as a freshman last season was Georgia’s third-leading rusher with 618 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But the Bulldogs also signed two more highly touted tailbacks in 5-star recruit Zamir “Zeus” White and 4-star prospect James Cook. Could it be one of the new guys who ends up being the primary ball carrier?
“I don’t know, but it’ll be fun to find out,” said Chubb, who finished his career as Georgia’s second-leading all-time rusher. “I know I’m gonna be watching spring practice to see how things are going and get a feel for it.”
Said Michel: “I’m going to go into coaching mode. The competition is open right now. Everybody’s going to compete. The best man is going to win the spot.”
Of course, who ends up starting at tailback for Georgia is all relative. Chubb started almost every game he played in his career, yet Michel still managed to finish with 3,638 yards and 33 touchdowns. In fact, as a duo, Chubb and Michel became the all-time FBS leaders in career rushing yards by a pair of running back teammates with 8,407 yards. They surpassed SMU’s Eric Dickerson and Craig James (8,193 yards).
Not surprisingly, Chubb and Michel expect more of the same from the quintet of running backs that are succeeding them.
“They’re going to be fine,” Michel said. “That’s Georgia football: Running Back U.”
“Georgia’s in good hands,” Chubb said. “Me and Sony are gone, but that won’t change a thing. They won’t miss a beat. Those guys are really good.”
Chubb and Michel have been away from Athens training for the NFL draft most of the time since Georgia’s season ended Jan. 8 with a loss to Alabama in the National Championship Game. But they were around long enough to get to know the new guys a little bit.
Chubb said he has counseled White “a little” about his knee. White arrived from Laurinburg, N.C., with a right knee still healing from ACL reconstructive surgery.
“I just kind of told him he’s gonna be all right,” Chubb said. “He’s in good hands with [UGA trainer] Ron Courson. He knows that. It was a good choice to come in early and start the rehab process and get things rolling. Injuries happen; you’ve just got to fight through them. It’s not really a big thing if you do. You come back the same. He’s well-developed to be so young. He’s a big guy. He’s gonna be all right.”
The “old guys” said the “new guys” — White and Cook — remind them a lot of themselves. They both arrived pulling a sled of accolades and expectations, and now they’re going to be asked to compete every day for the next couple of years.
That’s nothing but a good thing for all involved.
“Nothing’s going to change,” Chubb said. “They’re all very good running backs. No matter what option they take, it’s going to be a good choice.”