“Surprised, Eddie? If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.” — Clark W. Griswold, “Christmas Vacation,” 1986
CALHOUN, Ga. – That’s me. I’m surprised. No, stunned.
Taken individually, I’d be less surprised if just Nick Chubb or Sony Michel or Lorenzo Carter or Davin Bellamy, one or the other or maybe two of them, decided to return to Georgia for their senior seasons. But all four? Nope, didn’t see that one coming from an inch away.
I’m not in Athens right now. I’m at a hospital in Gordon County where my father is recovering from an unforeseen health setback. He’s recovering now and getting better and, quite honestly, asleep at this very moment. But this is the kind of news that could be felt far and wide and immediately. And it was felt here in Northwest Georgia.
It’d kind of been brewing all day. I’d exchanged a few texts this afternoon with my cohort Seth Emerson, who’d been hearing rumblings that this news in particular was coming and was preparing for it. Yet still I remained incredulous.
The timing for such an outcome didn’t really make sense to me. Usually, when news to stay or go is revealed, it’s shortly after the New Year and before the NFL underclassman declaration date, which is always the middle of January. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reported pro announcements from bowl sites.
If you hear about this early, it’s usually to announce that someone was is leaving. That allows the school/team that much more time to get the word out in recruiting for a replacement.
This is different. This is highly unusual. This is big news.
Thanks to the modern miracle that is Smart Phones, the word spread like wildfire Thursday evening. Upon spotting the UGA toboggan my father uses to warm his bald head, the kind nurse attending to him at Gordon Regional Hospital cheerfully announced to everyone in the room, “Did y’all hear? Chubb and Michel are coming back! Can you believe it? I can’t believe it.”
I hadn’t written anywhere that I expected both Chubb and Michel to turn pro, but I darn sure had said it to anybody who had asked me. And lots of people had asked me, in hallways and drive-throughs and on the airwaves with DawgNation’s Brandon Adams and the good folks at 680 The Fan and others.
Part of that I’d say was because of past experiences and partly the result of pure cynicism. I’ve just seen kids turn pro early so often, regardless of draft projection, that I’ve simply come to expect them to leave early. And especially at the position Chubb and Michel play.
The shelf life for running backs simply isn’t what it used to be. It’s not just the punishment they take now in the SEC and Power 5 leagues, which might as well be called NFL Junior. It’s because they change them out so rapidly at the next level. It’s rare that you see NFL backs now play into their 30s. Bottom line, you’ve gotta get paid when the getting’s good. And as much as draft position is important, it’s more about the second contract at the professional level.
Truthfully, the only one of the four decisions that really surprised me was Chubb. We all know how hard he had to work to come back from his left knee reconstruction to play this season. And then the going was tough once he got back. Between the daily maintenance he had to do on his old injury, the new ones he was incurring and the blocking difficulties the offensive line had, Chubb was taking a beating this year. I couldn’t imagine him risking more injuries next season while facing just as much uncertainty with Georgia’s line next season.
But, in the end, it’s not the threat of injury that Chubb’s thinking about. I’m not going to act like I had a long, drawn-out conversation with his dad, because I didn’t. I just had a short text exchange with him Thursday night.
Henry Chubb thought his son made “a very wise and mature decision to come back for his senior year at Georgia. We’re not thinking about him getting hurt again; we’re thinking about how well he’s going to play if he’s healthy.”
And that, my friends, is the bottom line on Chubb’s decision to come back next season. And it likely says a good bit about his production in this last one. Chubb finished with 988 yards rushing but recorded a career low 4.8 yards per carry this year after averaging 7.6 yards over the first two seasons. Meanwhile Chubb suffered a high-ankle sprain of his left leg in the third game that affected him the rest of the season.
“He was not 100 percent most of the season,” Henry Chubb said. “Nick showed very little emotions regarding himself. He is more focused on the team performance. Yes, he had the opportunity to go to the NFL, but it was his choice to stay at the University of Georgia for his senior year and I’m very proud of him.”
It’s a decision that shocks me, for sure. But it’s one that I think will serve Georgia very well. Chubb coming back can only be good for the Bulldogs, as it is with all four of those guys. And I sincerely hope it is good for Chubb as well.
He certainly looked like a first-round back before taking that tumble in Knoxville in 2015. Maybe he’ll get paid like one after next season.