ATHENS — Before any game, Caleb King jumps in the locker room shower, scrubs and rinses thoroughly, then gets out and dries himself off.
Then, once he’s done, King jumps right back in.
Then he does it one more time.
Yes, the Georgia tailback showers three times before any game. He has done it that way since a huge high school game (315 rushing yards and five touchdowns at Parkview) started his superstitious ways.
“I was like, ‘I’m gonna keep this,’ ” King said. “I think the reason is just so I can start fresh before every game. Just forget about what happened in the past, good or bad.”
The Bulldogs’ plan for their tailbacks this year will be a bit of rinse-and-repeat too — find a productive runner and keep giving him the ball. But whether it’s King, Washaun Ealey or someone else remains an open question.
King, a junior, and Ealey, a sophomore, have been splitting first-team carries in practice this week, according to King. Sophomore Carlton Thomas and true freshman Ken Malcome have been sharing second-team carries.
Those four have combined for a career 1,650 rushing yards — only 250 more than Knowshon Moreno had by himself in 2008, his final year at Georgia. Still, the Bulldogs have high hopes for their ground game this year, especially with a veteran offensive starting line.
In fact, the Bulldogs are depending on it.
“I’d be disappointed if we don’t run the ball well,” head coach Mark Richt said. “I’d be very disappointed if we don’t run the ball well. And if we do run well, it’ll help (freshman quarterback) Aaron (Murray).”
While running back-by-committee has become common at both the college and NFL levels, King and Ealey are in direct competition. They have similar builds and styles — no thunder and lightning approach here.
“Whoever can be more productive and can take care of the football is gonna play the most,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
Ealey got a few more carries last year, finishing with 717 yards and averaging 5.7 yards per attempt. King finished with 594 yards and 5.2 yards per carry but also had seven touchdowns, while Ealey had three.
“One game you might carry 25, and the next game the other guy might carry 25. We’re gonna run the ball, and they’re both gonna get their fair share of carries,” Bobo said. “Whatever tandem or trio we like, or maybe one guy ends up establishing himself. ... By no means if hey this guy’s No. 1 going into the first game, does it mean he’s going to be the guy that’s going to get 25. It’s who’s going to be who we feel like is hot, (and) who’s running the ball well.”
Bobo mentioned a trio, which would open the door to Thomas or Malcome. Thomas, who is 5-foot-7, will be an option if the Bulldogs want more of a scat-back. The biggest option is the true freshman: The 6-0, 212-pound Malcome was rated the nation’s No. 25 running back recruit by Scout.com and 97th overall nationally by ESPN.com.
Ealey and King both say they’re good friends, comfortable enough that Ealey said he teased King last year about being more productive yardage-wise. King admitted that if Ealey uncorks a long run during a game, King gets antsy to do the same.
They’re also starting to help out the youngsters. King could be seen giving Malcome some pointers on steps during Thursday’s practice.
But for the moment, the competition is between King and Ealey.
“Great teams are gonna have two backs. I think we both are comfortable with that role,” King said. “So every day we just go out there and try to go hard, try to compete, try to make each other better. If I make a mistake, he says something to try to make me better, and vice versa.”