ATHENS — Every time someone in the Georgia football program is asked about Zamir White, they all say just about the same thing.
They’ll bring up how good White was prior to his second ACL injury. His work ethic receives universal praise. But above all, everyone has mentioned how happy they are to see him back out practicing with the team.
“Just seeing them out there getting plays, running the ball, catching, swing passes and picking up protections,” Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley said. “It’s fun coaching him because you know how grateful he is to be back out there.”
At the beginning of fall camp, White was cleared for contact, another benchmark for him on his long recovery road. When the team donned full pads for the first time on Tuesday, White was not wearing a knee brace on either surgically repaired knee. That held true again on Thursday and Saturday as well.
White was able to participate in Saturday’s scrimmage, the first of the fall. And head coach Kirby Smart gave another encouraging sign of White’s recovery.
“He was really contact tough. He was running behind his pads, had a couple of short-yardage runs that were crucial third-and-1s, fourth-and-1s,” Smart said. “He was able to churn it out and get first downs. He did have some big catches. He did have a good overall day.”
Smart went into greater detail about why everyone wants to see White regain some of his old form.
“When he gets the opportunity to come out there and gain some confidence and success, I think everybody is pulling for him,” Smart said. “And for the defensive players, it’s not easy to pull for him because he’s not easy to tackle him. He’s a full-grown man when he’s out there running the ball.”
As for some more specifics on what White has done in Georgia jersey when healthy, teammates have spent much of the past week providing anecdotes about White flashing some of the talents that made him the No. 1 ranked running back in the 2018 recruiting cycle.
“I literally remember the first play of this year during camp and he burst through a hole and me, William Poole, all looked at each other like ‘Dang, he was really moving on them,’” cornerback Eric Stokes said.
Former Georgia linebacker Natrez Patrick gushed about White’s first impression from last August. Offensive lineman Ben Cleveland echoed Patrick’s comments while also taking notice of White’s physical running style.
“Just knowing how good he was when he first got here,” Cleveland said on where the excitement regarding White comes from. “He was running downhill and hitting people. He loves to hit people and when you combine that with someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.”
Those early reviews only made the events of last August all the more gutting at the time. While covering a punt, White tore the ACL in his left knee, not even a full year removed from tearing the ACL in his right knee.
His much-hyped freshman season was lost before it ever really began.
White was still spotted around the team on gamedays, though he was limited to street clothes as he recovered from his injury. The running back from Laurinburg, NC was finally able to get back onto the practice field on a limited basis this spring. But he once again had to sit out Georgia’s G-Day game, as he was not yet fully cleared.
The hype for White continued to grow over the summer, as he released a handful of workout videos. Those videos gave an already rabid fan base another way to get a peek into what kind of athlete Georgia had in White.
Through all the talk about White, it’s worth remembering Georgia does return 1,000-yard rusher D’Ande Swift to go along with senior Brian Herrien. Despite the expectations and excitement surrounding White, the reality is that Georgia doesn’t need him to be the second coming of Todd Gurley.
But there is also the belief that if Georgia is going to become the best version it can be in 2019, it will need White to validate the chatter about him and his ability.
To hear some of White’s teammates tell it though, it sounds like White might actually be able to live up to the enormous expectations this season.
“He’s got a chip on his shoulder,” offensive lineman Solomon Kindley said. “He is who everybody thinks he is. He’s going to do big things this year.”
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