ATHENS – Keith Marshall still talks with Todd Gurley every day. The two were once connected by a nickname, Gurshall, that seems long ago, as forgotten as the idea that the two tailbacks were on the same career path.
Gurley, who became the star, is now in the NFL. Marshall is still at Georgia, just trying to get his career back on track.
And yet that Gurshall nickname came up just the other day.
“It really doesn’t seem like that all that long ago at all,” Marshall said, smiling. “Todd was talking about that the other day. It seems like it was just yesterday.”
There may be no bigger curiosity on Georgia’s offense than Marshall. If he’s back to the form he had back in the Gurshall days, when he was averaging 6.5 yards per carry and scoring eight touchdowns, then the Bulldogs have quite the backup tailback.
But that was three years ago. In the meantime Marshall has had one ACL surgery, re-injured the right knee, and missed most of this year’s spring practice with a hamstring injury.
Over the past few months, various coaches and teammates have said that Marshall looks back to his old self. Marshall reiterated that on Monday.
“I’m fast,” the former high school track star said. “I feel as a good as I ever felt at Georgia.”
He also vowed that he has confidence in his health and his knees. That’s key, if true, because it’s one thing to have the same burst around the edge or to the hole, it’s another to be looking for the hole rather than worrying about your knee.
It wasn’t that way last year, Marshall admits. He returned for the start of the season, but only had 24 yards on 12 carries before the knee forced him to shut things down. Did he return too soon from the previous year’s ACL injury?
“They cleared me. I wanted to play. I told them I wasn’t gonna sit out. So I wanted to come back,” Marshall said. “But hindsight, maybe I should’ve waited a little longer.”
Nick Chubb ended up being the one that benefitted from Gurley’s suspension and injury, and enters the year as the unquestioned starter. Marshall and sophomore Sony Michel are now seeking to be the second man in, but together they form quite a potent backup option.
Marshall said he lost a lot of weight, down to 212 pounds now after being around 225 pounds during Belk Bowl practice. He’s also done different leg conditioning drills, which he hopes have helped his recovery.
Running backs coach Thomas Brown, who suffered an ACL injury when he was a Georgia tailback, has told Marshall to only control what he can control. He’s taking that to heart.
The injury also caused Marshall to re-evaluate some things, much the same way it did for receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who became an avid reader. Marshall switched majors, from business management to finance, and will graduate in December.
“I still have the same outlook. I definitely want to get a chance to play in the NFL because I believe I have the talent to do so. But it definitely gave me – I’m not gonna say it humbled me because I never felt like I was a cocky person. But it gave me a realization that football can be taken away just like that,” Marshall said. “So that’s why I switched my major. I tried to find other things for when football is over that I could be very successful in.”
Marshall has two years of eligibility remaining at Georgia, but it’s not certain he’ll use them. Coach Mark Richt indicated near the end of last season that Marshall, having dealt with everything he has, might be ready to pursue the NFL if he has one good year.
“I’m not sure,” Marshall said of returning to Georgia next season. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. I’m just concentrated on the season right now.”