ATHENS -- Isaiah Crowell started wearing the rubber bands a couple of years ago, when the recruiting really started heating up, when he probably realized what his future held.
The two rubber bands adorn his right wrist. One stands for the shine as Crowell puts it or the praise he gets for his football abilities. The other is meant to remind him of his struggles.
What I went through and what I made it through, Crowell said.
It may seem that it only has been a charmed life for the Georgia tailback, who six games into his college career is already living up to the expectations that he would shine. He ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing, and his offensive coordinator says Crowell has a chance to be one of the best to ever play at Georgia.
Thats the shine for that first rubber band. The struggles are for the other one. The other stuff. The stuff that happens off the field.
I didnt know itd be this tiring, Crowell said. So much pressure is on you. I didnt know that. But I expected everything else with football. I knew it was gonna be hard; I knew it was gonna be tough to practice. But outside of football, thats what Ive gotta get used to.
Increasingly, he gets recognized wherever he goes. Crowell can be shy, so thats not easy. He said school and other obligations have forced him to adjust.
On the plus side, he has started to get used to speaking to the media. And hes learning to live with the various little injuries. First it was his ribs, then his wrist and most recently an ankle that bothered him at Tennessee.
Ive been sore after every game, Crowell said. But thats how it is. Thats just how its going to be.
Bryan McClendon, the Bulldogs running backs coach, has warned Crowell that other teams will be taking shots at him, trying to exploit those injuries. There is now a target on Crowell, who is on pace for 1,146 rushing yards in the regular season. But little injuries are also customary for a tailback in the SEC.
You get hit on every play, whether youre play-faking, whether youre blocking, and then a lot of times when you have the ball in your hands its not just one guy hitting you, McClendon said.
Thats a big reason Georgia coaches would like to keep Crowells workload around 20 to 25 carries per game. The 30-carry performance at Mississippi was an aberration.
But its also becoming apparent that Georgia cant afford to keep Crowell off the field for long. He may be the teams most valuable offensive player. For instance, when Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin was asked this week about game-planning for Aaron Murray, Georgias quarterback, Franklin answered, We also think their running back is a special player, and thats a big part of our focus.
There are still some little things that Crowell has to improve on, according to Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. That may include pass blocking. But overall, Bobo is fairly unrestrained in his praise.
For as much pressure, scrutiny that guys been under since he arrived on campus, dealing with a lot of people pulling and tugging at him, I think hes responded well, Bobo said. Hes continued to mature and get better every week. Hes definitely made a difference in our offense.
McClendon said Crowell has proven to be very coachable, willing to ask all the right questions, the assistant coach said. The freshman works at the small things that result in good runs.
At some level its not even about work. Crowell may be a freshman, but he has played running back since he was about 6 years old.
You usually cant teach a guy how to be one of those great ones; theyve just got it in them, Bobo said. You see it all the time. Hell be running to the sideline, and hell move his body a certain way, and a guy will just completely miss him. I think hes got a chance to be one of the best to ever play here. Hes gotta continue to get better, where he could be a dominant player. Hes not there yet.
Asked for his season goals, Crowell mentioned being named a freshman All-American. Four other freshmen rank have rushed for more yards so far: North Carolinas Giovani Bernard (657 rushing yards), Akrons Jawon Chisholm (575) and Connecticuts Lyle McCombs (575).
But Crowell is doing it in what most agree is the nations toughest conference. And no matter what happens on that front, his career is off to a good start.
I think Ive proved a lot, Crowell said. Ive probably made the fans happy. My family and all the coaches and the people around here. I think I just tried to do my best and I think I made everybody proud of me.