ATHENS — Garrison Hearst showed up at a recruiting camp in Atlanta last summer and, at first, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh mistook him for a prospect.
“Dang, man, you look like you could still play,” Harbaugh said after recognizing Hearst.
And he does. But make no mistake about it, Hearst said. He couldn’t.
“I wish that was so,” the Johns Creek resident said this week. “I wake up every morning and my knees remind me that I couldn’t play football anymore if I wanted to.”
Indeed, injuries ended Hearst’s NFL career prematurely and impacted his production before that. But the former Georgia and NFL star running back still looks the part and takes very good care of himself. He rides a bike to get in his cardiovascular work and Thursday he was going through his regular workout at a local gym.
As it is, Hearst has nothing left to prove on a football field. People are still talking about him years after he toted the rock for the last time. In fact, Hearst is being recognized for his contributions this weekend when he becomes one of eight people enshrined in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fall in Macon.
Hearst, who starred as a tailback at Georgia from 1990-92 and at Lincoln County High before that, is going into the Hall along with three other Bulldogs: golfer Laura Coble, the late Liz Murphey for her contributions to women’s athletics and tennis player and coach Manuel Diaz. There is a jacket ceremony at the Hall of Fame on Friday night, and the black-tie induction ceremony is Saturday evening.
It’s a special weekend, for sure, even for Hearst, who has received national awards and recognition aplenty during a football career that spanned three decades. He was player of the year in the state as a running back at Lincoln County, won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best back at Georgia and played in two Pro Bowls in the NFL.
Nationally, Hearst is probably best known for his work as a pro, in which he played for four teams over 10 seasons, gained 10,031 total yards and scored 105 touchdowns.
But in this area of the country, it’s all about what he did with “the Dawgs.”
“I lived in Georgia, I’m from Georgia, I played at Georgia. All the Bulldogs’ fans remember me as No. 5,” Hearst said with a laugh. “As far as this induction, I think it’s awesome. My coach (Larry Campbell) went in a few years ago, so I’m very honored to be the next guy to go in from my hometown.”
Campbell, who ended his career at Lincoln County as the winningest coach in Georgia high school history, will be there. So will his coach at Georgia, Ray Goff, and much of Hearst’s family, including his parents, Mary and Johnny Hearst, and his older sister Kandie.
Hearst has a big family of his own now. He and wife Jennifer had four children. Their oldest, Gerard, 17, is a running back prospect by his own right as a junior at Johns Creek High. He also has a girl in ninth grade, Brooke, a middle-schooler named Gannon and Gavin, 5.
They have kept Hearst’s attendance at Georgia games at a minimum since his retirement in 2004.
“When you have four kids you miss a lot,” he said.
Plus, Hearst also has a job with the NFL. He’s a uniform compliance officer with the NFL.
“I’m the guy that I hated when I played,” he quipped.
But of it all, Hearst said his favorite time in sports was the three years he spent at Georgia from 1990-92. Especially 1992.
Hearst turned pro after the Bulldogs went 10-2 that season. He led the nation in scoring with 21 touchdowns and an average of 11.5 points per game and was invited to New York City, where he finished third in Heisman Trophy voting.
“The way we look at it, the guys that were there that year, we were five points from being in the SEC championship game,” Hearst said. “We lost to Florida and Tennessee by a total of five points. That was tough, but it was one of those years that a lot of great things happened for us that year. We got a chance be a part of something that turned Georgia football around. It was a great year.”
Hearst rushed for 1,547 yards that season. That remains the fourth best season in UGA history, with Herschel Walker holding the top three spots. Nick Chubb tied him with 1,547 yards in 2014.
Chubb, a rising senior at Georgia, also ran past Hearst on the career rushing list this past season. He now has 3,424 yards, by passing both Hearst (3,232) and Todd Gurley (3,285) for second on the all-time list behind Walker (5,259).
That was something Hearst was glad to see.
“I’m happy for him,” Hearst said. “I’m happy for all those Georgia backs who do well. They’re keeping the tradition alive in Athens as far as running the ball. That’s what you want to see at Georgia. I don’t want to hold onto all my records. That’s means Georgia’s not doing much.”