Isaiah Crowell is the Southeastern Conference's Freshman of the Year, but there isn't a celebratory air surrounding Georgia's talented tailback.
Crowell had four 100-yard rushing performances during the regular season but was suspended for the New Mexico State game and for the first quarter at Vanderbilt. He sustained an ankle injury against Kentucky that knocked him out of the ensuing game against Georgia Tech, and he was booed by Bulldogs fans questioning his dedication in the SEC championship against LSU.
"I'm going to remember the mistakes I have made, some of the good things I did and know that I have got to keep working hard to be the best teammate and best person I can be," Crowell told reporters following Saturday's practice, which was his first meeting with the media since the night of the SEC title tilt. "I need to be more accountable and just work hard every day."
The Bulldogs continued preparations Sunday for the Outback Bowl with redshirt freshman Ken Malcome and Crowell working 1-2 at tailback. They will practice today and Tuesday before breaking for Christmas.
Georgia coach Mark Richt continually praised Crowell during the first half of the season, when he had three 100-yard games in the first five contests. Since then, however, Richt has become frustrated with the tailback situation, calling it a "pain in the rear" on one occasion and sometimes choosing not to address it altogether.
Richt has dealt with plenty of high-profile players in his 11 seasons with the Bulldogs, with former quarterback Matthew Stafford and former receiver A.J. Green being two of the more recent examples, but none seems to have been more scrutinized from day one. Crowell was rated last winter as the nation's No. 1 tailback, and Richt committed an NCAA secondary violation during his recruitment by having his offense line up in formation at the Butts-Mehre athletic complex with the tailback being the only piece missing.
"I won't talk specifically to Isaiah's notoriety, but nowadays, the way the recruiting process is, guys become bigger than life before they even walk on the campus," Richt said. "That is a tough responsibility for anybody to try to live up to and to feel like you are just a regular guy when all of a sudden every move you make somebody has got a comment on it or an opinion about it. That has got to be tough.
"I've talked to Isaiah. I've talked to other guys like Stafford, [Knowshon] Moreno and A.J. about learning to deal with the notoriety and the celebrity of it."
Reports of Crowell's single-game suspension due to a failed drug test were circulating on Georgia message boards before the athletic department made it official. Since the loss to LSU, however, some of those same message boards have speculated that Crowell is either getting dismissed from the program or is transferring.
Crowell, who has a team-leading 847 yards and five touchdowns on 182 carries, insists none of that is true.
"I'm happy here," he said. "I know there are rumors about me wanting to transfer, but no, I have never said that."
Since rushing 24 times for 132 yards and a touchdown against Auburn on Nov. 12, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder from Columbus has just 12 carries for 26 yards. He currently is competing with Malcome and Brandon Harton for the opportunity to start in the bowl, and Richard Samuel and Carlton Thomas are expected to get in the mix when the team reconvenes in Tampa next Monday.
Once the bowl is over, a lot of attention will be given to commitment and early enrollee Keith Marshall, who is rated by Scout.com as the nation's No. 1 tailback and by Rivals.com as the No. 1 all-purpose back.
"Really, I'm happy to get another guy," Crowell said. "I thought we needed more running backs."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...