Walker’s legendary number staying put

mlough@macon.comJuly 24, 2011 

HOOVER, Ala. -- All sorts of games get played during the recruiting process, which now includes unofficial offers to sophomores and commitments long before players are close to high school graduation.

One is the promise of a jersey number.

The early commitments remind Georgia head coach Mark Richt of another precocious youngster, Ernie Sims.

Richt, then at Florida State, remembered seeing Sims in junior high and being floored by his potential.

He was too young to be a prospect, but eventually, he narrowed his choices to Auburn, Georgia and FSU.

And he wanted to wear No. 34.

“Florida State had Ron Sellers, retired jersey,” said Richt, who had then moved on to Georgia. “ ‘We’ll give you 34.’ Auburn, somehow, through the grapevine, they said Auburn said, ‘You can wear that 34 (of Bo Jackson).’ ”

There was no such option coming from Athens.

“I’m at Georgia, I just got there,” Richt said, starting to laugh. “The last thing I’m gonna do is give Herschel Walker’s number away. I don’t care who he is.”

Richt told Sims no deal, although Walker did contact Richt later and say it was OK to use his uniform.

“I said, ‘Herschel, there’s no way I’m giving up your number to anybody,’ ” Richt said. “We didn’t get (Sims), but I don’t think that was the reason.”

Murray ready for more

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is more likely to make more plays from the pocket than taking off. Richt doesn’t want to change too much simply because Murray has experience.

“He navigated it so well, and now you’re sitting there saying, ‘OK, well turn him loose,’ ” Richt said Thursday before the SEC Media Days session began. “Well, you better be careful because a year ago that wasn’t the philosophy, and he did very well. I think Murray will make more plays from the pocket than maybe he did a year ago. He’ll be more apt to stay in there and throw it rather than take off or make something happen with his wheels.”

One issue is adjusting to new receivers: A.J. Green and Kris Durham are not longer running routes. Obviously, the other wideouts have to step up.

Murray is taking in stride the pressure of being only a sophomore and earning consensus preseason all-conference honors, and center Ben Jones fully expects his quarterback to at a minimum equal the hype.

“I’m glad he’s on my team,” Jones said. “He’s always in the weight room, working out, watching film. He’s definitely the best prepared out of any quarterback in the SEC.”

One grizzled veteran

Tauren Poole is among the SEC’s growing stable of top-flight running backs this season, but forgive the senior from Tennessee if he checks for gray hair.

He was recruited and signed by Phillip Fulmer, playing in 12 games as a freshman in Fulmer’s final season.

On came Lane Kiffin, and Poole got only slightly more time as a sophomore as heralded freshman Bryce Brown was being groomed as the back of the future.

Out went Kiffin, and out went Brown. In came Dooley, and suddenly, there was room in the backfield.

Poole, a senior from Stephens County, took advantage the departures to start 13 games and earn all-SEC honorable mention after two seasons of hardly playing.

“I wish we had 100 Tauren Pooles, his commitment to the program, how he represents Tennessee,” Dooley said. “He was inconsistent last year. He was productive as a whole. Number one, it was his first year of playing. He wants to do well so bad, he wants to perform so well, it took him a while to get settled into the position.”

Settled is not something Poole is used to in Knoxville, playing for three head coaches, and four offensive coordinators and strength and conditioning coordinators.

“That just doesn’t happen,” he said good-naturedly. “It was rough, the first couple years were rough. It’s a roller coaster ride. You’ve just got to do your best to enjoy it.”

He smiled at being labeled the last man standing.

“(None) of the guys here now even know Coach Fulmer personally, like I do and like a couple guys,” Poole said. “May be only two guys on team got recruited by Coach.”

It’s pretty simple

Richt owns the current conference standard, starting his 11th season at the same school.

He is 13th all-time in the SEC in winning percentage (73.8) and 19th in wins (96).

Florida and Vanderbilt are on their fourth head coaches since Richt took over in 2001, with six other schools on their third.

South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and LSU’s Les Miles are second in continued longevity at the same school, entering their seventh seasons.

Since 1980, only Auburn’s Pat Dye and Tommy Tuberville, Mississippi’s Billy Brewer, Mississippi State’s Jackie Sherrill, Arkansas’s Houston Nutt and Tennessee’s Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer have managed a decade or more in the SEC.

“It’s not difficult if you win,” Richt said with a laugh. “It’s not difficult if you win 9, 10, 11 a year, win the Eastern Division every other year, win the SEC every three or four years. It’s not a problem at all.

“It’s when you get 6-7, that’s when it’s a problem.”

Notes and quotes

The preseason all-conference picks of the coaches and media all agreed on Georgia selections.

Both put tight end Orson Charles, offensive tackle Cordy Glenn and quarterback Aaron Murray on the first team along with place-kicker Blair Walsh, punter Drew Butler and return specialist Brandon Boykin.

They agreed on center Ben Jones, defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson and cornerback Boykin on the second team.

The first-team offenses matched, except for the coaches voting a tie on the offensive line with Kentucky’s Larry Warford and Auburn’s Brandon Mosley. Mosley made the media’s second team.

The second-team offensive lines had only one common pick, Alabama’s D.J. Fluker, and Arkansas’ Joe Adams was the lone wideout to make it on each second team.

Tyson and Boykin were the only players at their positions to make both second teams, although Mississippi State defensive lineman Fletcher Cox made the media team alone but tied with South Carolina’s Travian Robertson on the coaches’ team.

Dooley’s list of things to deal with has grown since he showed up as the Vols’ athletics programs stays in the news for things other than games.

The latest was the promotion of Joan Cronan to oversee the athletics department, which had separate administrations for the men and the women, on an interim basis.

So Tennessee is one of the few major programs with a female at the helm, which last for a while even if only temporary.

“Joan has been phenomenal,” Dooley said. “When Joan took over at interim athletics director, I thought it was very important to try to define for her three or four things where she could help us before we hired a new athletics director. She has responded beautifully. She has done a phenomenal job of kind of running the ship in the interim phase.”

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