ATHENS — Nobody was happier about Sony Michel’s decision to join the Georgia Bulldogs in 2014 than John Theus. The Bulldogs’ senior offensive tackle had seen enough in high school from the fleet-footed tailback from South Florida to know he’d much prefer having him on his own team for once.
Theus said he first encountered Michel when he started for American Heritage High School against his Bolles School team — as an eighth grader. The two powerhouse private-school programs meet every year, which meant Theus, now a Georgia senior, faced Michel, currently a sophomore, three times in high school.
“I remember him being a dad-gum eighth grader and he ran all over my state championship football team,” said Theus, who now gets to block for Michel as the Bulldogs’ starting left tackle. “We beat them, but he ran all over us, an eighth grader on varsity. I mean the kid’s an unbelievable athlete, an animal. I’ve never wanted somebody to get hurt, but my senior year he was hurt and we didn’t have to face him.”
Conversely, Michel remembers Theus and Bolles oh so well.
“Me and John Theus have been through some battles,” Michel said after Wednesday’s two-hour practice with the Bulldogs. “His team just kept beating my team. My senior team we finally got them, but he wasn’t playing that year. He was already at Georgia.
“I always got mine,” he said of yards and touchdowns, “but it wasn’t enough.”
Michel finds himself in an interesting situation in his second year with the Bulldogs. Considering he was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school and the No. 2 guy behind Todd Gurley as a true freshman at the outset of last season, he’s a relative forgotten man this season.
Nick Chubb, after rushing for 1,547 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns last season, is now the man in the limelight. And a lot of the leftover attention behind him is being reflected on junior Keith Marshall, who is coming off an injury-marred season that resulted in a medical redshirt.
Therein between them sits Michel and his 6.4 yards per carry and 13.4 yards per catch averages, quietly waiting to do his thing.
“I haven’t really thought about me being a forgotten man,” said Michel, who rushed for 410 yards, had 106 receiving and scored 6 TDs as a freshman. “But it’s not really about me. I don’t know about those guys but we’re trying to focus on team and trying to build leadership right now. That’s our goal.”
Michel dealt with his own injury issues in his first season in Athens. He got the second most carries behind Gurley in the Bulldogs’ first two games of the year, then busted loose for a team-best 155 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 carries against Troy in Game 3.
But then Michel absorbed a straight-on hit from safety Brian Randolph on his third carry against Tennessee in Week 4. He suffered a broken shoulder blade and missed the next four games. He played sparingly the rest of the way and in eight games overall. He aggravated the injury three practices into spring ball and sat the rest of the way.
But Michel pronounced himself completely healthy and ready to go this fall.
“No concern, no issue,” Michel said. “It was about how my shoulder pads were fitting. My shoulder was exposed too much. I’ve been fitted with some new shoulder pads and now I’m ready to go.”
Theus can validate that. He has been watching not only Michel do his thing all summer but also Chubb, Marshall and the other tailbacks, and he believes the Bulldogs are about to unleash something special in the backfield this season.
“Sony may be forgotten now, but when the season comes around people are going to know all three of those guys,” Theus said. “They all have a different little dimension to them. But Sony has a lot of talent and can do a lot of different things. Strong, fast as crap. We all saw him making plays last year. He’s going to make some this year for sure.”
Football is not Michel’s only skill, by the way. He is also known for his musical chops. There is some unconfirmed speculation that the song he recently recorded with UGA baseball player David Gonzalez — “Like Me” — could be played in Sanford Stadium before a game this season.
— AJC UGA (@ChipTowersAJC) August 5, 2015
Hey, when you’ve got it, you got it!