Keith Marshall remembers the play.
Two years ago, Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, Marshall took a pass from Aaron Murray in the flat and started to turn up the left sideline. He took an awkward hit to his right knee, which resulted in a torn ACL. That one play altered Marshall’s entire career at Georgia.
“It changed my life. It changed everything,” Marshall said. “I got more serious about certain things, academics. You realize football can be taken away just like that. I’ve grown from it. I wouldn’t say I’m glad it happened but I’ve definitely grown from it, learned a lot of lessons and became a better person.”
This Saturday against Tennessee, Marshall will make his return to the location of his injury.
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Left tackle John Theus, one of Marshall’s closest friends, remembered the hit but said he couldn’t take any negative feelings from it. It was a football play, he said, which resulted in an injury. There was nothing different that could have been done.
“If I had to tackle Keith I don’t think I’d go high either,” Theus said.
Since, Marshall went from being half of the tandem known as “Gurshall” -- alongside Todd Gurley -- to being forced to rehab and recover his knee for well over a year. He’s now the No. 3 running back on the depth chart. This season, he's carried the ball 23 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns. He's played a role on Georgia's special teams coverage unit.
Marshall understands why he’s no longer getting a major share of the carries. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have asserted themselves among the nation’s top backs. There just aren’t enough carries in a given game for Marshall to get his at the moment.
“Right now, especially with how they’re playing, they’re killing it,” Marshall said. “I’m not going to talk to coach and say I want to get the ball more. Obviously I’d like to play but that’s everybody. You got to focus on the team.”
Marshall will keep plugging away as the No. 3 back. He’ll have a decision to make at the end of the season -- whether to come back for a fifth year, transfer into a graduate program for his final year of eligibility or take a shot at the NFL.
One way or the other, it sounds like Marshall wants to prove he’s still got it.
“Any time you play, you’ve been successful, you want to get back,” Marshall said. “Sometimes you might rush it. Especially when you’re out, you feel like you’re not a part of the team anymore. It’s kind of hard to stay involved. This year, it’s been fine."