It was supposed to be an introduction to college football stardom.
On Sept. 19, 2009, a mammoth hole opened for Georgia tailback Richard Samuel against Arkansas at Razorback Stadium, and Samuel capitalized. His 80-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter ignited the Bulldogs, who roared back from an 11-point deficit for a 52-41 victory, and it established Samuel as a capable successor to Knowshon Moreno.
For an instant, that is.
Samuel was the third-team tailback by the end of the '09 season and is now working for a second consecutive spring at inside linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 243-pound redshirt junior from Cartersville has watched 15 games come and go without playing a snap.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride," Samuel said this week. "I've switched positions and I've needed surgery. It's been pretty wild."
A 16-year-old Samuel enrolled at Georgia in January 2008 as Scout.com's No. 4 tailback nationally, but he also had showed promise as a Cass High linebacker by tallying 82 tackles as a senior. He had 26 carries for 133 yards (5.1 a carry) and a touchdown as a Bulldogs freshman and became the top tailback in '09 when the expected starter, Caleb King, had a hamstring injury that affected his spring and August efforts.
Samuel's lengthy run in Fayetteville matched Moreno's 80-yard touchdown against Troy in 2007 as the longest rushing score of the Mark Richt era, and it was Georgia's longest rushing score against an SEC foe since Tim Worley raced 89 yards in the 24-3 upset of top-ranked Florida in 1985. He tallied 104 yards at Arkansas but followed that with 25 yards against Arizona State and 11 against LSU.
It was during the 20-13 loss to the Tigers when Georgia coaches, seeking any kind of spark, inserted Washaun Ealey for the first time all season. Samuel never received as many carries as Ealey again and didn't receive any in the last four games, the last two of which he didn't even play.
Ealey and King combined for 349 rushing yards in the '09 regular-season finale at Georgia Tech, and Samuel found himself at linebacker three months later.
"We did what we thought was best at the time," Richt said. "He did some good things at running back, but I'm glad he's where he's at now, and I'm glad he had the chance to redshirt last year."
Samuel didn't plan on redshirting, but he had a nagging knee injury most of last year and was overwhelmed by all he had to digest in the 3-4 scheme under first-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. He admits that the frustration of getting shuffled down the tailback depth chart in 2009 was nothing compared to his first few weeks on defense.
"Last spring was the toughest because everything was so new," Samuel said. "There were times I didn't understand the plays and times I didn't get the job done, but I just had to keep telling myself that this was a learning process and that things would get better."
Samuel has worked the past few weeks backing up former safety Alec Ogletree at the "Mo" position but has received most of the first-team snaps in recent days while Ogletree nurses a groin injury. He said working with the starters has been beneficial and believes he is much more comfortable compared to this time last year.
And he promises that his 80-yard run at Arkansas will not be his last highlight.
"I still have more inside of me," Samuel said. "I still have more to show."
ESPN to show opener
Georgia's Sept. 3 opener against Boise State in the Georgia Dome will be televised by ESPN at 8 p.m. The matchup was announced last November, but the network had not been known until Wednesday.
Going head-to-head with that game will be the LSU-Oregon showdown in Dallas, a potential pairing of top-five teams that will be shown on ABC.