MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Former Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell’s dream of playing in the NFL is still very much alive.
The 2011 SEC freshman of the year said he has put his off-field troubles behind him and is now comfortable at Alabama State.
But his allegiance to the team where he briefly starred hasn’t changed since his dismissal from the Bulldogs in June 2012 following an arrest on felony weapons charges. Crowell said he’s still friends with ex-teammates, including his backfield successors Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and has high hopes for the fifth-ranked Bulldogs -- and for his own Football Championship Subdivision Hornets.
“I watch them all the time,” Crowell said after a recent practice. “That’s still my team. I grew up watching them. That’s why I wanted to go there. I know those guys. They came while I was still there. They’re my close friends and I wish them the best, and I think they’re doing very good. I hope they win the national championship this year.”
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It just won’t be his top priority.
Since the charges were dismissed in April, a trimmer Crowell has his sights set on leading the Hornets to a Southwestern Athletic Conference title and forging an NFL career.
Once the nation’s top running back prospect, Crowell was arrested at a vehicle checkpoint on the Georgia campus in June 2012. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and possession of a weapon on school property. Prosecutors dismissed the charges April 24, saying they couldn’t prove a link to Crowell and the 9-millimeter Luger pistol with an altered serial number found under the driver’s seat.
That cleared Crowell’s record and his path to the NFL.
“When I knew they were dismissed, I was happy,” said Crowell, who declined to discuss details of what happened that night or who the gun belonged to. “Really happy, because the NFL would know that it got dismissed. I knew all that was over and done with. That was the main thing.”
Crowell, who had earlier failed a drug test at Georgia, insists he’s not wasting time anymore on regrets. Atlanta attorney Steve Sadow, who represented him, said the running back has grown up since his dismissal.
“I think he matured a great deal during the process, and I believe he handled it appropriately,” Sadow said. “He didn’t express any anger. He didn’t express disappointment that his football career at Georgia got nipped in the bud over something he did not do wrong. At the same time, he saw it as an opportunity to go on and do better things at other places.”
Alabama State head coach Reggie Barlow, a former NFL receiver, said Crowell hasn’t done anything worse than show up to a team meeting late during his stay at the historically black school located near the state capitol. He said Crowell finished the summer with a 2.7 grade point average.
Barlow believes Crowell is the SWAC’s best player and that the NFL is a realistic goal.
Crowell earned All-SWAC honors last season after rushing for 842 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“I played in the NFL for eight years. I played with some really good backs,” Barlow said. “Fred Taylor and Charlie Garner and some really good guys. Mike Pittman. He puts me in the mindset of a Fred Taylor. He has that type of speed and explosiveness. He catches the ball well in the passing game and he understands protection. And when you have those three components, that’s exactly what the NFL is. You fit the pyramid. I think he’s an NFL running back.”
Barlow said scouts from six NFL teams have already shown up at preseason camp.
Crowell said he thinks about the NFL “all the time” but hasn’t decided if he’ll declare for the draft after his junior season.
“I think I’m going to get a good shot,” Crowell said. “A good thing is I don’t get the pounding as much. I think I’m still the same running back that played for Georgia, except I got way better than I was my freshman year.”
The 5-foot-11 Crowell said he’s shed 15 pounds during the offseason and is back at his Georgia playing weight of 190 pounds.
The transition wasn’t easy after leaving a team where relationships with coaches and players started with his recruitment. Now, Barlow sees him more often chatting and joking around with teammates.
“Last season I wasn’t very comfortable,” Crowell said. “Now, I’m way more comfortable than I was. I think I was dwelling on the past. “
He is eager to prove he can still run against an SEC defense when the Hornets visit Kentucky on Nov. 2. That gives him one more chance to experience something he definitely misses on fall Saturdays with the bigger crowds and atmosphere of playing in the SEC.
“The games, that’s different,” Crowell said. “Everything else, nah, I don’t (miss). But the football games, of course. Anybody would.”