Leading the Spotlight

ATHENS – The shadow caused by the spotlight hitting Isaiah Crowell has been trailing him for some time now.

"It's time to man up," Crowell told Dawg Post, regarding a depleted running back depth chart. It's a statement of understanding from a young man whose importance to Georgia's program is monumental – particularly after the departure of Caleb King and Washaun Ealey.

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But even before the premature exit of King and Ealey, Crowell has been a focal point of attention in the world of college football – not just in Athens. See, coverage of recruiting isn't like it used to be, and Crowell is arguably the biggest recruit to come to Georgia since Hershel Walker. That, coupled with the fact that 2011 is considered to be a pivotal year for coach Mark Richt – observers, coaches and fans can notice and feel the importance of Crowell.

He says he knows something is coming – but he isn't sure exactly what it will be.

"I don't really feel too much pressure right now," he said. "But I know as the season gets closer there is going to be a lot."

Crowell is a rare breed of football player at Georgia – a new phenomenon, if you will. Most recruits – even five-star recruits – are not immediately recognizable. Recruitniks (folks who obsess over recruiting) have been aware of Crowell since late in his freshman season at Caver. But the phenomenon that is Crowell reaches well beyond recruitniks.

"I've been dealing with this all of my life. I know it's going to be bigger, but I can handle it," Crowell said.

Students didn't chant A.J. Green or Matthew Stafford's name at sporting events during their recruitment. Knowshon Moreno never had his head on a stick in the student section during a basketball game.

All of those things happened to or for Crowell.

Stafford, Moreno and Green were all from out of state. Crowell is from Georgia, and that probably ratcheted up his importance – or at least his exposure – even more in the minds of many.

The spotlight on the recruiting battle between Alabama and Georgia burned bright on Crowell. That spotlight was certain to focus once he arrived at Georgia – as is common with five-star prospects. But now with only Richard Samuel ahead of him on the depth chart, Crowell's production must be in the same universe as the expectations laid before him.

In three short weeks he will take the field at the Georgia Dome to face Boise State in the first game of his college career. And on Friday he will meet with the media for the first time since he's been in Athens.

Crowell can't possibly be ready for what's about to happen to him off the field – how could he? He's been playing in front of less than 5,000 people on Friday (sometimes even Thursday) nights at Memorial Stadium in Columbus, GA – where you can hear the drum major's orders to the band.

At Sanford Stadium the drum major is just one of 93,000.

"They are all going to need help navigating what's about to happen," Richt told Dawg Post. "But Isaiah, probably, especially will need help to navigate what's about to happen."

Perhaps Crowell is that good. Perhaps the pressure surrounding Crowell is about more than just him. Perhaps Georgia fans are starving for the next Knowshon… or more.

Georgia opened its 2011 fall camp a week ago, which is the precursor to the two biggest games Georgia has played in recent memory. Crowell, for his part, is in the thick of the running back discussion – listed behind former linebacker Richard Samuel on the pre-fall depth chart.

"Well I want to be the starter," Crowell said. "Got to be a starter."

TB Isaiah Crowell works as Bryan McClendon looks. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

Samuel is doing all the right things, but not much seems to be in the way of Crowell and starting at Georgia. Perhaps that's why quarterback Aaron Murray was in constant contact with Crowell before the youngster got to Athens.

"I know he's a leader," Crowell said of Murray. "Murray texted me every week."

"A couple of the older guys and I went to his dorm, took him outside and talked with him – we were that excited to get him out there and show him the playbook," Murray said of meeting with Crowell this summer. "We ran though some plays, and told him that we were going to be there for him no matter what. He's definitely taken that well, and is working hard."

According to senior running back Wes Van Dyk, Crowell took to the summer tutoring in a good way.

"We helped him out with the play side of things where he could really pick it up faster when we got into camp," Van Dyk said. "And I think he's doing that he's picking up everything quick."

"Isaiah is definitely ahead of the curve as far as learning it (is concerned)," running backs coach Bryan McClendon said Sunday. "He picks it up quick, and things do come easy to him. Football is serious to Isaiah."

Still, Van Dyk said Crowell took a little time adjusting to what college football was like at Georgia, which, he says, is understandable.

"He was getting used to a lot this summer," Van Dyk said. "A lot of guys were pulling at him telling him to be here or there. You do get that time to get used to what we do here. It is a lot to deal with here. The older guys have tried to help him with that."

For Crowell it seems everything is multiplied because the exposure he's received. Even Murray, a fellow five-star prospect coming out of high school, didn't have to deal with what Crowell has handled thus far and is poised to handle in the near future. The on-the-field expectations assure that – one way or another, with success or failure – everyone will remember Crowell.

Off-the-field Crowell will have to deal with adoring fans, girls and gawkers watching his every move, and while that may not be new, it will be on a new scale.

"I've talked to him about off-the-field expectations and off-the-field in general every day," McClendon told Dawg Post. "He has to understand that he can't do anything about that. He can't do anything about what y'all write. He can't do anything about what people expect from him. All he can do is come here and want to be good and not worry about it. He can't sit here and say, ‘These people expect this and that from me.' You can't do anything about people's expectations. All you can do is just focus on doing the best you can do, and I think that's helped him out a bunch."

"As much as they have this notoriety about them they also are a regular student," Richt said of notoriety Crowell and his fellow Dream Teamers share. "They have to do everything everyone else does in terms of how they behave and how they handle their business. They are all going to have to have some good indoctrination into what's about to happen. But things happen so fast nowadays."

The Dawgs have dealt with this sort of thing before, Richt pointed out.

"Well Matthew and A.J. were pretty highly-touted… about like Isaiah," he said.

But even Richt admitted that the program was getting ready for the onslaught that will come the youngster's way.

"We are planning for that," Richt said. "There will be some things Isaiah will be dealing with that some other guys won't have to deal with."

Van Dyk thinks the Columbus native is ready for football and all of the off-the-field responsibilities that come with a person in Crowell's position.

"I think Isaiah is a grounded person," Van Dyk said. "I think he will be able to deal with all of this."

"He knows," Murray said. "He had that when he was getting recruited. You had people chanting his name at games. But I think the coaches have definitely talked to him about it, and are all about being aware of what you put out there, and what you say."

The spotlight has been tracking Crowell for a long time, and now – good or bad – he's going to have to deal with the fame that comes with it.

TB Isaiah Crowell works as Bryan McClendon looks. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

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