ATHENS — They’re not the same, really. Nick Chubb doesn’t have any tattoos. Sony Michel has a few. Chubb wears his hair short. Michel wears it high. And their backgrounds could not be more dissimilar.
“He’s from Miami, the big city,” Chubb said. “I’m from a small town (Cedartown, in west Georgia) you never heard of.”
But Chubb and Michel are linked now, and they could be for a while, for the simple reason that they are both freshman tailbacks at the Georgia. Two years ago, a pair of tailbacks arrived together in Athens, and Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall became stars. Two years later, Chubb and Michel arrived, and the comparisons came quick and often.
“They honestly kind of remind me of Keith and Todd when they first got here,” senior quarterback Hutson Mason said.
Georgia can only hope that this latest tandem has the same impact. But here’s the thing: The way these two got to Athens differs greatly from the previous star tailback tandem.
Gurley and Marshall are both from North Carolina. While not quite coordinating, they were also good friends and talked often during the recruiting process.Chubb and Michel, on the other hand, didn’t meet until they played together in a high school all-star game. Even then they didn’t stay in contact until arriving at Georgia this summer.
Since then they’ve become closer, rooming together, and bonding over the shared experiences on and off the field.
“I’m the snorer,” Chubb said.
It didn’t long to make an impression on teammates. Chubb’s weight room exploits were quickly legendary, confirming what people saw in a viral Twitter photo of Chubb leaping about five feet in the air — from a standing position.
“I’ve done that every track meet, but everybody saw it at states,” Chubb said.
Everyone naturally will wonder how they compare as running backs, so let’s get this out of the way. Chubb and Gurley are more similar, both being physical runners, while Michel and Marshall are more likely to use their speed and agility.
Mason summed it up this way by saying, “Chubb’s a real hard, downhill runner. Sony’s a bit different, real versatile, has great balance. We plan on using him in some different ways this year.”
The problem for Chubb and Michel — if it is a problem — is that Gurley and Marshall aren’t two legends of the past. They’re still on the team, with two years of eligibility, although it would be a shock if Gurley uses the second one.
But much like Gurley and Marshall in 2012, these two freshmen were unafraid of the depth chart when they decided to become Bulldogs.
“I looked into the present, of what’s here now,” Michel said. “Todd and Keith, they’re here now, and if I was to come in they would push me to the maximum of my ability.”
“Sony was a five-star on ESPN coming in. I knew it was gonna be tough, coming in here to fight,” Chubb said. “But it’s making me a better back right now. I can see it. I’m doing stuff I never have before, and I’m feeling very good about myself.”
They also aren’t either embracing or distancing themselves from the Gurley-Marshall comparisons.
“That’s not really something we get into, me and Nick,” Michel said. “We try to do our thing, get better every day.”
Michel said he has been playing on most special teams, including punt and kick return. Isaiah McKenzie, his high school classmate at American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also has been put in that return spot.
Chubb was the leading rusher in Georgia’s first preseason scrimmage, but he also fumbled once. Let the record show that Georgia didn’t announce that after the scrimmage — Chubb did during his media session Monday.
On most days, the two have been trading spots on the depth chart, which at this point is fourth and fifth team. Besides Gurley and Marshall, there’s also sophomore Brendan Douglas. But Chubb and Michel are going to make it hard for Georgia to sit them.
Neither player would say they expect to play this year, saying it that up to the coaches.
“It would be OK (to redshirt),” Michel said. “Whatever helps the team the best.”
But teammates are convinced otherwise, including freshman receiver Shakenneth Williams, a former Rutland standout.
“Pretty talented guys. They learn from each other, which is a great thing. No animosity,” he said. “Both of them will see the field this year.”