ATHENS – When Todd Gurley broke the news of newest endorsement deal, posting a picture on Instagram drinking Gatorade, he soon heard from a few people from his Georgia days, concerned about the first five letters of the company’s name.
“A couple comments,” Gurley said this week. “Hey, I’m part of the Gatorade family now. They just kinda have to hate me or love me.”
It was a phone conversation, but Gurley was clearly smiling. And he’s probably still okay with Georgia fans – and now the Gurley brand is growing three time zones away, in one of the nation’s top markets.
The Los Angeles Times last week ran a story with the headline: “Rams running back Todd Gurley is primed to become L.A.’s next marketing superstar.” In the body of the story came the line: “And with Kobe Bryant now retired, Gurley is primed to become the next Los Angeles superstar.”
That’s in a city that already posts Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw and Yasel Puig. But football is football, and when the Rams moved from St. Louis to the nation’s No. 2 market, Gurley’s Q-rating saw an increase.
Still, call Gurley the reluctant celebrity.
“That’s not my goal,” he said. My goal is to play football and I’m just happy to have the opportunities that come with it. My main thing is just going out there, making plays on the field and making sure I’m doing the right things off the field.”
Gurley spoke in an interview set up by Gatorade, which had the former Georgia tailback pushing its “Beat the Heat” program. And Gurley was an able spokesman while dispensing the talking points: “Make sure you’re hydrated. Because if you become dehydrated … You just want to drink throughout the day and get all your electrolytes in.”
Besides Gatorade, Gurley has endorsement deals with Nike, Carl’s Jr and Bose headphones, and he’s filmed a commercial for Campbell’s Chunky Soup. Gurley signed with Roc Nation Sports, the agency founded by Jay-Z. RocNation’s Michael Yormack told the Los Angeles Times that Gurley could be a “megastar.”
It’s quite a turnabout for a kid who was known at Georgia for not really liking the spotlight. Gurley was notoriously reticent to do interviews his first couple seasons. But, knowing that Gurley was headed for a stage bigger than Athens, then-head coach Mark Richt and UGA communications guru Claude Felton prodded Gurley to keep doing the interviews, even taking him to SEC media days before his junior year. At one point Gurley, starting to loosen up, told reporters: “Claude told me to be nice to you guys.”
Of course, Gurley was always popular with his teammates and known as a jokester, so it was just a matter of making that come out. And now he’s in Los Angeles, where he moved after the team’s relocation was finalized in March.
Gurley was introduced to Bryant in the training room after a Lakers game. A sort of symbolic passing off the marketing torch. But Gurley, a big college basketball fan, doesn’t make a big deal out of the meeting.
“I guess living here you just see everybody,” he said. “So it’s been cool. Got a chance to meet a lot of people.”
This, keep in mind, is someone who grew up in small-town North Carolina, then spent three years in laid-back Athens, then one year in St. Louis. He doesn’t sound overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour of L.A.
The move to L.A. has been “easy,” Gurley said. He’s been surprised by how often he’s been recognized out and about, despite pro football being away from L.A. for two decades.
“Yeah, I guess as an athlete you don’t expect people to recognize you, but they do,” he said. “We’ve got great support from LA.”
Gurley said he’s exchanged a couple of texts, “nothing too crazy,” with new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. There might be the usual mixed feelings about the coaching change, given he was recruited by and played for Richt. But like many that’s softened by Richt getting the Miami job, and Georgia hiring one of its own to replace him.
“That’s always great for an alum to come back and coach,” Gurley said. “So we’re excited about that.”
He was asked if there was anything else he’d like to say to Georgia fans.
“Just excited, ready for the season, see that first game against UNC,” Gurley said.