ATHENS -- When news of Isaiah Crowell’s suspension broke Tuesday, his former head coach at Carver-Columbus quickly texted Crowell.
Dell McGee said he heard this from the star tailback: “It won’t happen again, coach.”
Those around the Georgia football program are banking on that, hoping that Crowell doesn’t go down the road of recent Georgia tailbacks.
For the first half of this season, Crowell’s star was rising at Georgia and nationally. He was living up to the promise that greeted his arrival on campus this year, and comparisons to the legendary Herschel Walker already were being made.
But in the past few weeks his reputation has taken a hit. There have been the nagging injuries, one after another.
Crowell sat the first quarter of Georgia’s win at Vanderbilt for unspecified reasons. And this week he was suspended for Saturday’s game against New Mexico State after sources say he failed a drug test. Fellow tailbacks Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome were also suspended for the game.
But the attention has been on Crowell, the SEC’s fifth-leading rusher with 689 yards.
“He made a terrible mistake,” McGee said. “But the only person who’s going to redeem that mistake is Isaiah. He has to mature and do things the way Georgia wants them done. Or he’ll find himself with a lost career and kind of living the life of a lot of great players who could have been great and didn’t do things the way they needed to do them off the field or on the field.”
Georgia knows all about those players who didn’t cut it. In the past year, Washaun Ealey and Caleb King left the program after off-field problems. So did Dontavious Jackson in the spring of 2010.
They were tailbacks, too. But head coach Mark Richt expressed confidence Wednesday that the same fate won’t befall Crowell.
“I’m extremely proud of how Isaiah has been handling the situation. I think he was very remorseful,” Richt said. “I feel like he’s gonna grow up from this in some ways. I think he’s gonna be better for it. Sometimes things happen in life that will help you grow up a little bit quicker.
“Sometimes a guy will get in trouble, and you have your meeting with him, and you’ll walk out of there, and you’ll be thinking, ‘This guy doesn’t get it.’ But I did not feel that in any way shape or form. Matter of fact, I think it’s one of the better conversations I’ve had with Isaiah since I’ve been here.”
McGee scoffs at the idea that Crowell was doted on at Carver.
“Doing things the right way is nothing new to Isaiah; it’s just gonna be a matter of him being a little bit more independent in college and people aren’t babysitting you,” McGee said. “I think he has to come to grips with that. And I’m sure Georgia has ways to make sure he has a mentor and maybe one of the older guys to get him through that situation when he goes through it.”
Crowell’s injuries have also emerged as a concern this year. First it was his ribs, then his wrist and most recently a shin contusion, against Florida. None of the injuries have caused him to miss a complete game, but he has had to come out of games when coaches would prefer he was running the ball.
McGee traces the problem back to last spring, when Crowell was recovering from a knee injury and thus may not have prepared properly.
Crowell sprained his MCL during his senior season at Carver, according to McGee. Crowell played one game with the injury, then missed the next six games, returning for the playoffs.
During the offseason, when other future college players were working out and preparing for the rigors of the next level, McGee feels Crowell was recovering from the knee and trying not to aggravate it.
But Crowell’s former coach also thinks he just needs to adjust to this next level.
“You get hit so much harder in college than you do in high school,” McGee said. “That’s one thing Isaiah will have to learn to cope with as he goes on.”
Georgia senior fullback Bruce Figgins is four years older than Crowell but is a fellow Columbus native and rooms with him on the road.
“I love Caleb and Washaun, but they’re two different situations ... two completely different situations,” Figgins said. “He’ll be fine, as will the other running backs. We’ll bounce back. They’ll be back in a week, and we won’t miss a beat.”