HOOVER, Ala. - Thursday wasn't about Georgia tailback Todd Gurley getting his game on as much as turning his charm on.
Often reluctant to do interviews and sometimes irritable during them, Gurley was happy to represent the Bulldogs at Southeastern Conference media days. Donning a colorful bow tie and smiling frequently, the 6-foot-1, 232-pounder looked comfortable in fielding questions from the more than 1,200 gathered media.
"It's cool being here," Gurley said. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and it was something I couldn't pass up. Usually when I'm talking to you guys, I've just played for three hours and I'm ready to go."
Gurley has rushed for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns in his first two seasons, but an ankle injury caused him to miss three games last year. There also was a hip injury and conditioning issues that resulted from his time off, but Gurley still managed 989 rushing yards and developed into a receiving threat.
He is arguably the SEC's top Heisman Trophy candidate for 2014, having surpassed 100 yards rushing 13 times in his career.
"People get caught in that hype a lot, but it's basically a team award," Gurley said. "It's not a one-man award. You have to be on a winning team. There is no way you can be on an 8-5 team and win that award.
"I'm just going to go out there and play like I can play and not worry about getting hurt. If that happens, then it happens, but I'm not going to hold back from anything."
The Bulldogs proved in wins over South Carolina and LSU and even in losses to Clemson and Auburn that they could compete with any team nationally last year. The injuries and a youthful defense led to their disappointing record that followed the 12-2 version of 2012.
Hutson Mason got a taste at quarterback after Aaron Murray went down in the 11th game against Kentucky, and there are eight starters back on defense to give this year's team plenty of optimism. Field-goal kicking is certainly no worry, with Marshall Morgan having made 17 straight 3-pointers to close last season.
"We've got a lot of things to put together," coach Mark Richt said, "but I think we've created a pretty good culture this summer."
Georgia's biggest concern is its secondary, where cornerback Shaq Wiggins and safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons departed or were dismissed with eligibility remaining. Heading that bunch now is Jeremy Pruitt, the defensive coordinator whom Richt lured away from national champion Florida State.
"When your defensive coordinator is the backfield coach, by understanding you're the last line of defense, you're going to make sure whatever you call can be executed by your guys," Richt said. "What you don't want is a busted play to be the easy cause of a touchdown. If you're making mistakes on the back end and giving up big plays, it just kills everybody.
"I don't think Jeremy will call anything at all that he doesn't think the back end can handle. I think we have enough talent back there, but I don't know if we have the depth if we start getting injuries. It's just nice to know you've got a guy who has coached excellent secondaries in the past."
Thursday was Richt's 14th consecutive appearance at SEC media days. He is 126-45 with the Bulldogs and seemed as relaxed as ever as he took his turns through the rooms at the Hyatt Regency.
Now 54 years old, Richt may still hold true to his pledge of not coaching as long as his mentor, Bobby Bowden. Yet he doesn't sound like someone who is stepping aside any time soon.
"Some people come to me and say, 'Whenever you retire, we think you're going to go off and do missions work,'" Richt said. "There is not a greater mission in college athletics than being the head coach at University of Georgia. There are so many men that we get to touch their lives and the people they influence. It's a mission in itself, really.
"Katharyn and I were talking about it the other day. There is no greater mission than what we're doing right now."
Odds and ends
Richt on whether he wants other SEC programs to adopt Georgia's stricter and more publicized drug policies: "We're not worried about that part of it. We don't want our guys to do drugs, OK?" ... Gurley on the devaluing of running backs in the NFL draft: "I just think you have to make somebody want you. It's all about your performance on the field, and that's what I'm trying to do. I want to make somebody take me with the first or second pick or whatever." ... Richt's son Jon, who recently became a father to a daughter named Jadyn Elise, is now a volunteer quality control assistant with the program.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.