The Hulk having a good 2006

ATHENS – In a 6-foot frame that would seem to be packed completely with 244 pounds of brawn, Brannan Southerland has a found a little room left for sympathy.

Georgia's sophomore fullback has emerged from last year's one-trick wonder, that trick being plowing linebacker after linebacker into the turf, into the No. 16 Bulldogs' best offensive player this season. In the process, he's turned his junior backup, Des Williams, into a spectator.

"Every player wants to get as many plays as they can, but Des is one of my best buddies," Southerland said. "From Des' point of view, I wish he would get in there."

If that's going to happen, Southerland better cut out what he's doing right now. Williams, who started at fullback in 2004 and missed all of 2005 due to a chest injury, returned this year and was expected to take nearly as many fullback snaps as Southerland, but Southerland has proven too good to take out of the game.

"That's one guy I can tell you who has played outstanding from the very first ballgame," Coach Mark Richt said. "He's becoming more and more valuable as a runner and a receiver."

Georgia (5-1, 2-1 SEC) plays Vanderbilt (2-4, 0-3) on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Sanford Stadium.

Southerland leads the Bulldogs in touchdowns with six (four rushing, two receiving), which is three times as many as any of his teammates. He has more than a third of Georgia's offensive touchdowns. He's averaging as many yards per carry as tailback Thomas Brown (3.5) and has more catches (eight) than all but two of Georgia's wide receivers.

"I think we've got a pretty good ball player right there," Richt said. "If he doesn't let all of us talking about him get to his head, he might be pretty good."

Southerland has even managed to add a little glamour to the most overlooked job outside the offensive line. He made one of the most unlikely plays of the season last week, leaping high in the air and snagging a 27-yard reception on a pass from Joe Tereshinski.

"I've always known I could jump," he said. "Usually blocking you don't get to display your vertical, but it was fun. It was like backyard ball. The ball's thrown up and you just have to go up and get it."

Southerland has 53 rushing yards on 15 carries after having just 26 yards on 18 carries all of last year. He's matched last year's reception total and has 76 receiving yards.

"He's a special breed for sure," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "He'll de-cleat somebody and just look like a rock on one play, and then he'll show soft hands by going up for that ball like he did last week. He's probably one of the better athletes we have on this team."

Already a hulk, Southerland spent the offseason recuperating from shoulder surgery and redefining his body by losing midsection weight and gaining bulk in his arms. The result is only about a pound of difference in overall weight but a trimmer look and feel, Southerland said.

That change, combined with a new blocking style taught by first-year running backs coach Tony Ball, has Southerland energized. Southerland is using his hands more in blocking this year rather than absorbing so many blows with neck and shoulders, he said.

"I feel as strong and healthy as I did going into week one," he said.

That's bad news for Williams, good news for Bulldog fans.


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