Guerry Clegg commentary on Georgia football: Bulldog fans should give Isaiah Crowell a break

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJanuary 30, 2012 

Chances are, you were once 18. You might be in college now. You might be a parent. You might have played some sports on some level. You might be a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer or even a coach.

Chances are, you never played college football. Well, except for you, Daryll Jones. You might be reading this. Or Dell McGee.

But most of the rest of you -- or, I should say, “us” -- did you play football in college? Did you play on the highest level there is short of the professional leagues?

Were you a running back? Have you had 20-25 collisions with four men at one time, at least two of whom probably outweighed you by 100 pounds?

If you did play college football, or maybe even in the NFL, as did Jones and McGee and Chris Shelling and Brentson Buckner, you have some idea of what Isaiah Crowell has gone through the past 12 months.

But even those guys -- with all due respect -- don’t know what it’s like to be Isaiah Crowell. They don’t know what it’s like like to feel the weight of an entire state on their shoulders. None of us do. McGee comes closer than anyone because he was Crowell’s coach at Carver.

Do you know how much pain Crowell was in when he hobbled off the field in Tampa in the Outback Bowl? Did you feel his pain?

Did the side of your ankle swell the size a softball?

Did you feel the scorn of your fans, who had cheered you and heaped praise on you before you even graduated from high school?

None of us knows how much pain Crowell played in last season.

Twelve months ago, Crowell was the answer to Georgia’s problems at running back. Now, he is seen by many as being the problem.

Wimp.

Pot-head.

Thug.

This is how he’s being described now ... by those who never even have met him.

In December, rumors caught fire in Athens that Crowell had stopped going to class and would not play in the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.

But he played.

When he limped off the field after just his third carry of the game, that merely reaffirmed in many fans’ minds that Crowell wasn’t tough enough to play in the SEC. If Todd Gurley signs with Georgia this week as he has pledged to do, many see Crowell being no higher than third on the spring depth chart. Keith Marshall, rated by some as the top running back in this year’s class, is already enrolled in Athens.

Nobody knows how it will shake out in April, or August, or November. Here’s what we do know:

We know that Crowell will start spring ahead of the freshmen on the depth chart. We know he’s more talented than any of the returning backs, so he should be ahead of Richard Samuel and Ken Malcome.

We know that Crowell just turned 19 years old this month. Does he need to grow up? Of course he does. So does every other college freshman. Do you know of a 19-year-old who doesn’t need to mature?

Crowell made some mistakes. He was suspended from the team during the season, reportedly for marijuana use. So was LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, a Heisman finalist. But he also handled the pressure and the criticism and the rumors better than many of us would have at that age. Or any age. He sat in the interview room after the loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game and answered every reporter’s questions.

We know that neither Marshall nor Gurley is more proven at this point than Crowell was this time last year.

Many fans see the addition of Marshall and Gurley as reason to tell Crowell to hit the road.

Really? How would that make Georgia better? How would that make Crowell better?

Give him time to mature. Give him space. Give him a break. Give him the chance you’d want your son to have.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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