Homegrown: Why Brian Herrien personifies the Georgia Bulldog spirit
EDITOR’S NOTE: This original Brian Herrien story continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia. To access the other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com.
Brian Herrien is a Bulldog. He shows it with every slipped Saturday tackle.
There are so many scrappy moments. Those moments where he plays like the most devout member of DawgNation would if God blessed them with the gift to play at UGA.
Georgia’s staff sometimes brings up the notion of players who bring the juice. Herrien is something else entirely.
No. 35 would be the battery.
Watch him cycle through every Saturday during warm-up. When he was younger, Herrien would just bob with the beat. His face has always been plastered with a forever smile.
Bulldogs young and old now plug into him. Like an Isaiah Wilson-sized portable battery for their phone. The current is especially strong to his fellow running backs.
“I don’t know where it comes from but I definitely don’t think that anybody [on his team] is more energetic than me,” Herrien said this fall. “I just love the game. I just love the atmosphere. I’m an energy person so when the energy is good then I will have it.”
It’s hard not to notice his sheer grit and determination this fall. Did you see that Herrien run? It seems as if the phrase “which one” might be the most pertinent one to delve into.
- The one he made just to get eligible at Georgia?
- His 19-yard TD on his first college carry?
- What about the ones from spring 2017? When Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were in bubble wrap? Herrien and former teammate Elijah Holyfield cut through a salty National finalist defense often enough to convince everyone inside the program they were elite SEC backs.
When Herrien gets a chance, he delivers. It seems like he has all of Douglas County and DawgNation on his back. He can carry that load and a little bit more.
Brian Herrien @brianherrienn with an amazing run!!!
— Hiro Katsuki (@KatsukiFB) October 6, 2019
Herrien picked up three stars just as he signed with Georgia. Yet with that, he’s still the lowest-rated RB signee of the Kirby Smart era.
Despite those labels, there is something special in what Herrien continues to do. Runs angry might be a modest descriptor. The feeling here is unchained fits even better.
“My running style, I kind of like to bruise,” Herrien explained during a media session this week. “I kind of just want to hit the defense as much as I can so then as the game goes on, the defense isn’t going to want to come back making the same tackles.
“They’ll kind of get to the side, hesitate a little bit and at that point, I can just run by them.”
Why what Brian Herrien does is special to DawgNation
Herrien is on a brisk pace to set career highs this fall. Some might think he’s a valuable stack of cord word for Georgia’s running backs room. Another valuable asset finally showing what he can do.
Truth be told, he’s always been that way. When he made plays in high school, he was just doing the same things he did in middle school.
We had got on the field early at Georgia, it was what he did at the prep level absent of those stars.
Herrien’s carries now make opposing defensive coordinators think twice about their side’s tackling prowess.
The reality is it was what he had already been doing on the practice fields at Georgia for years.
The senior just needed a spot closer to the center of the stage. It can’t be missed then.
“You tell Brian he can’t do something and he’s going to do his best to make you eat those words,” said Myron Terry, who was one of his coaches at New Manchester High School. “That kind of sums him up. He loves to prove people wrong.”
“People doubted him academically. People even doubted him athletically. He was just kind of biding his time and was going to show you.”
Homegrown: Don’t forget this about Brian Herrien
Who can forget him showing the world that snatching 135 pounds in one hand was what a “man child” was prone to do? He did that in high school. What about the way he pummeled Tennessee’s defense a year ago with the finishing body blows to that game?
Smart first noticed him at an Alabama football camp. Herrien drilled and tested just as well as other elite backs there. Especially catching the football. He tucked it in stride the way elite receivers do.
Smart remembered him a few years later as a true under-the-radar recruit. His transcript needed as much overhaul as the Braves NLDS rotation back then, but Herrien never gave up on himself.
Herrien entered his final high school semester believing he needed to get all As in his three remaining core courses and achieve a 16 on his ACT to qualify. He did more than that in recording an 18 on his final ACT attempt. That gave him some wiggle to qualify to sign. He only had to make all As and Bs in the spring semester.
Herrien thinks of his climb from a 1-point-something GPA every time he makes a play for Georgia.
“Every time,” Herrien said after a game this fall. “I mean if you see the passion and if you see every time that I beat on my chest I almost can’t breathe when I do it. I knock the wind out every time. It means a lot because everything I did, I did it on my own. I got everything I got because of me. It just took a lot. It was hard work and I really want to show [it].”
He began to buckle down in the second semester of his junior year of high school to boost his GPA. Herrien made just one “C” during the final two years of high school. His marks were all “As and Bs” after that.
He was also sure to point out how much his high school teachers helped him during that grind, too.
Brian Herrien: The good stuff about his path to UGA
Herrien went through ACT tutoring sessions and reported to school early to do make-up work and to make sure that he stayed on top of all of his assignments. He told DawgNation in March of 2016 his transcript issues were compounded when a school representative mistakenly put one of his grades as a “D” instead of a “B” on his grade report.
The storyline gets richer from there for a recruit who was so under-the-radar he wasn’t even ranked. No stars. No major SEC offers.
The major college programs saw the talent but doubted his ability to overcome the classroom hole he’d dug along his freshman and sophomore years. That’s why he wasn’t offered.
He told DawgNation in March of 2016 he wanted to qualify and play for Georgia more than anything. There was no Plan B. He was going to do whatever it took.
It wasn’t just his grades. He was also trying to become the first player from New Manchester High School to play in the SEC.
Terry summed up the ordeal perfectly on the day Herrien could finally sign with Georgia.
“This was being down 21-3 late in the third quarter and we didn’t have the ball,” Terry said back in 2016. “It looked bleak. You just punted and haven’t gotten a first down all game. Then you get the first one. Then you get a score. Then you get a strip-sack and return it. That’s when his test score popped. Then he just kept rolling from there. Everything that was working against him, he wasn’t going to let it stop him.”
When Smart met the media after his first win, that 19-yard run by Herrien was on his mind.
“Tears almost came to my eyes when that kid had that touchdown run,” Smart said. “Because a lot of ya’ll don’t know how far he came. He’s sitting in his second semester and he’s got to make four or five ‘As’ to even be eligible. … For that kid to come as far as he did and get thrust into the limelight and go out there and do what he did is really special.”
Brian Herrien: The forever smile that lights up 93,000 fans
There’s a checklist most photographers abide by during their pre-game work covering the team. Crowd pictures. Jake Fromm snaps. Cheerleaders.
Look for UGA and coach Smart making his rounds. Especially the pre-game chat at midfield with the coach of the opposing team. The newest 5-stars who are already flashing for the red and black.
The easiest mark is always a happy Brian Herrien.
There was the one time when pilots were honored in the middle of a game last year. Their crew flew over the stadium prior to kickoff.
Those servicemen were then honored during the game. Herrien watched them. With respect. But he lost it when one of them unzipped their flight suit to show he had on UGA gear underneath.
He had an animated look. He was just that happy and surprised. But it was pretty much the way he always is.
“Back in high school we’d have to get on him and we’d try to punish him a little bit,” Terry said this week. “We’d give him conditioning runs and he would just take it. He’d be smiling through the whole thing. You’d condition him extra hard and he’d said ‘I got you’ and he wouldn’t like it but he’d still smile and say he’s got you.”
That forever smile is about the only thing about him that runs counter to being a Bulldog
“He’s just smiling and saying ‘oh little do you know’ because he’s smiling because of how everybody out there still doesn’t know what he’s capable of,” Terry said this week.
Terry has seen him frustrated. Herrien has had bad days. Still does. But he doesn’t let it show.
“He loves life,” Terry continued. “He loves the brotherhood and always being around people. That’s why you always see him smiling. He never lets it appear like he’s having a bad day.”
Emojis were made for certain folks. Not Herrien. Terry calls him a “little ugly dude” when they chat.
“I can even be texting him and I can tell he is always smiling,” he added. “I can tell just by what he is texting. He’s always smiling. That’s not going to change about this kid. Never.”
Brian Herrien: He just loves proving people wrong
Herrien was named one of Georgia’s offensive players of the week after the UT game. His head coach said it was the type of game that they expect from him.
“The Brian that I’m seeing now is the Brian I’ve always seen,” Smart said after that win. “The difference is you guys are seeing him. You say, why didn’t he play? The guys that are in the NFL is the reason he didn’t play.”
“Brian has been perfectly capable. And when he got that opportunity, he seizes his opportunity the times he got in the past.”
What is the team motto these days? That “it takes what it takes” line? That’s what Herrien has lived to just get to Georgia.
He would arrive at school an hour earlier than his peers. He stopped playing baseball. He had extra work and assignments in the morning. Then tutoring after school and more studying.
For his stretch academic grind, he chose to rise at 5 a.m. to study for his ACT and take practice exams online.
“I want this now more than anything,” he said then. “This is what I have been dreaming for. I have to make this happen.”
He improved his GPA from 2.16 to a 2.5 during his senior year of high school. But he still needed to get that score on his ACT to qualify on the NCAA’s sliding scale.
“I will do this,” he said then. “I just have to.”
Herrien grew up racing Georgia teammate Tyler Simmons in high school. There were some days when the 6-foot, 215-pounder was even a step faster than the fleet wideout.
Is it any wonder he’s so determined to make the most of this time? When he was the first to run through the Georgia banner this fall, it was a well-deserved honor.
They didn't think I could do it …….so I did 😕🐐🤘🏾🔥 pic.twitter.com/KeI5Y4ffwO
— Brian Herrien (@brianherrienn) March 21, 2016
Brian Herrien: Where he is now
Smart is not shocked by what he’s seen from Herrien this season. Or in any season.
That’s because of how his former no-star to 3-star RB practices every day. It was how he ran in the spring practice before the 2017 season.
“The Brian that I’m seeing now is the Brian I’ve always seen,” Smart said. “The difference is you guys are seeing him. You say, why didn’t he play? The guys that are in the NFL is the reason he didn’t play.
“Brian has been perfectly capable. And when he got that opportunity, he seizes his opportunity the times he got in the past.”
DawgNation’s Mike Griffith reported this week that Herrien has 40 carries for 251 yards this season He’s almost matched his production (50 carries, 295 yards, 3 TDs) from last season.
Herrien seeks those “Dawg Yards” with his spot in Dell McGee’s running backs room. Not the runs behind 18-wheeler holes. He values those yards a lesser back wouldn’t have gotten. The type McGee does not sign to play for Georgia.
“My favorite runs usually aren’t the longest runs, they are the hardest ones, like the tough ones that shouldn’t have been a gain, or should’ve been a loss and kind of get back to the line of scrimmage or gain a couple yards,” Herrien said this week.
Terry boils down his former player’s success to pure resolve.
“The first thing I think of is his perseverance,” he said. “In this day and age where kids can transfer at the whim. They felt like they were promised this or that and it didn’t go right.”
Terry said he gets as excited to see Herrien succeed as his own children. That’s because of everything it took to get to Georgia. He feels Herrien stayed at UGA because he belonged there.
Terry feels that the 40-yard run last week reflects the work it took to get there.
“You’re talking SEC-caliber talent and he’s what dragging nine guys or nine guys get a hand on him before he goes down with that?” Terry said. “When you see him, you see feet moving and that pile moving forward. You see nothing but his resolve.”
There will be times in the future when a young RB flashes a desire for those “Dawg Yards” and doesn’t go down easy. When they do, it will remind folks of Herrien. That will be high praise for any future Bulldog.
“UGA has got a great kid in 35,” Terry said. “You can’t measure what he has and what he is all about. He’s going to be proud alumni and he really exemplifies what it really is to be a UGA ‘Dawg. Brian Herrien is a UGA ‘Dawg. He really is.”
Georgia’s Homegrown Talent: The DawgNation series
- Trey Hill: From Homegrown to the center of the Bulldog offense
- Homegrown: The twists and turns in Quay Walker’s road to UGA
- Eric Stokes is more like “UGA grown”
- Charlie Woerner: Homegrown from a Bulldog family
- Jake Fromm: From the Little League World Series to duck holes to the face of a program
- Andrew Thomas develops quickly into a hometown here at UGA
- Warren McClendon: Family roots run 44 years deep for this Georgia family
- D.J. Daniel: Likely impact defensive back took a longer route to Athens
- Travon Walker: Expect big things on the line from 5-star freshman
- Dominick Blaylock: Talented freshman WR found a homegrown fit in Athens
- Nolan Smith: From “Baby Boy” to a long-awaited Bulldog in Athens