Everyone's Favorite Dawg

ATHENS – An oversized grid of names and numbers nearly fills a wall in the hallway that runs between Georgia's training room and weight room. It lists the record holders for each position in various feats of strength and speed – a monument to the players who were as impressive in the gym as they were on the field.

Rennie Curran was just 18 the first time he saw the board, fresh out of high school and ready to make his mark at Georgia. He told his coaches his name would soon be on it.

He was a freshman and stood just 5-foot-10 – a measurement that might be a tad generous. He didn't have the typical bodybuilder's frame, but he possessed a desire for greatness that far exceeded his diminutive stature.

At the time, Curran was already bench-pressing 425 pounds, just 30 shy of Tony Taylor's record for linebackers. Curran has always set loft goals, but this one didn't seem too far out of reach.

He worked to add some strength during the season, and last summer, he took his first crack at topping Taylor.

"I almost got it," Curran said. "I was a little bit banged up coming out of last season so I didn't really get on the weights like I wanted to. I went for 460 and got it half way."

It was one of the rare occasions Curran's teammates have seen him fail – a remarkable fact given how lofty his aspirations usually are.

That's just how Curran approaches every aspect of his life. From football to the weight room to his relationship with fans, friends and family, he wants to be the best at everything.

"Rennie Curran does everything the right way," said Dave Van Halanger, Georgia's director of strength and conditioning. "(He's) different than a lot of guys. He comes in with a true focus that today I'm going to be great – not good, great. He's everything you want in a football player and a person."

Van Halanger said he has never measured Curran's height because he doesn't want to know the results. The truth is, Curran just doesn't look like an SEC linebacker.

"When you saw him practice, you knew right away – boy, he's unbelievable," Van Halagner said. "But your first impression is, he's not very big, and this is a big man's conference."

To say Curran isn't big is a bit of a misnomer. He isn't tall, but he is definitely big.

Curran's biceps are the size of watermelons, and his legs are like tree trunks. The shirt he wears for workouts might as well be painted on. He's built like a Mack truck.

"He's a freak," fullback Shaun Chapas said. "You just look at the kid, he's just a big ball of muscle."

That's the impression most people have when they see Curran. It seems impossible that much muscle could be sculpted onto such a small frame.

"The first time I met him I didn't think he was a real person," left tackle Clint Boling said. "It looked like he just came out of an Under Armour ad."

Boling first met Curran after his senior season in high school. Both players were headed to Georgia and began training at Competitive Edge Sports, a top-level training facility for athletes not far from Curran's Snellville home.

At 6-foot-5 and nearly 300 pounds, Boling didn't expect a lot of competition on the weight bench. Offensive linemen take pride in their strength, and an undersized and soft-spoken linebacker doesn't often intimidate.

Of course, Curran hardly fits the typical mold, and Boling quickly learned that keeping up with his future teammate would be no easy task.

"That was the first time I'd ever seen somebody do that much weight," Boling said. "He's so small and was so young, it really threw me off and caught me by surprise."

Curran has spent his life defying people's expectations.

Curran is a first-generation American whose parents moved from Liberia in the 1980s to pursue an education. They were unable to return after the country became embroiled in civil war. Curran now has a tattoo on his arm with the phrase "Liberian Dream" emblazoned over the country's flag.

He began lifting weights in seventh grade in preparation for a monster high-school career. At Brookwood High, he took his strength training to the next level. He set up a stringent exercise program and started lifting with the offensive linemen, despite being a fraction of their size.

Curran spent hours each day in the weight room and even became involved in bodybuilding. His approach to his workouts was no different than the philosophy that drives him in every other aspect of his life. He always did a little more than was asked.

"I still like the habit I formed when I was younger where it's lifting, even if it's 10 pounds heavier than what the sheet says, I still do that," Curran said. "Just try to aim high always, and it pays off."

The training doesn't stop after he leaves the gym.

Curran has worked with nutritionists to set up a dietary regiment aimed at keeping him in top shape. He watches portion sizes closely, although he admits making a few exceptions to his typically healthy eating habits. Every Thursday or Friday, he makes a trip to Peaches, an Athens restaurant specializing in Southern cuisine, for some greasy chicken and macaroni-and-cheese.

"I might eat that once a week, knowing that I'm going to go into the weight room and work it off anyway," Curran said. "For me, it's all about moderation."

His typical diet, however, consists of the standard body-builder fare – lots of protein and carbohydrates. He drinks Powerade and chocolate milk – the closest thing to sweets he allows himself. Sodas are a definite no-no.

"That's one thing I've never seen him do," freshman linebacker Marcus Dowtin said. "I may down a soda or something here and there, but I've never seen him do it."

While most of his workouts during the season are designed to keep him flexible and maintain strength rather than to build muscle, his bench press max is up to 450 pounds. He squats 560. He does 340 on power cleans.

Each trip to the gym is a smorgasbord of workouts.

"Bench, inclines, dumbbell press, squats, all the main lifts, conditioning, running, half-gassers, 110 sprints," Curran said. "It's a lot of work."

Despite the heavy workload, Curran never ducks out early.

Van Halanger said most players slump through their final few reps after a long workout. Instead of doing eight, they'll do six. Curran does 10.

By the end of a workout, Van Halanger said, Curran is sopping wet, dripping with sweat from exhausting every last bit of energy.

"I thought I was a pretty hard worker," Dowtin said. "I took the weight room very seriously. But when I first got here and saw Rennie – how small he was doing the things he can do – I was amazed. It basically helped me step my workout plan up knowing that somebody like him could do the stuff he does."

While Curran's height tends to disguise his strength, his physique overshadows his affable personality.

If recruits or fans happen to pay a visit to the weight room in the middle of a workout session, Curran makes stops to say hello and talk football.

When he misses a tackle or fails to get his last rep in the weight room – something that doesn't happen often – he never gets angry.

Even when he's lifting nearly double his own weight, Curran is in a good mood. A broad smile – wire braces and all – is as noticeable a part of his appearance as the bulging muscles.

While he's doing a set, Boling said, Curran is completely focused. As soon as he's done, he'll strike up a conversation with anyone who happens to be standing nearby as if the two were longtime friends.

"He's always smiling," Chapas said. "That's why we love him."

And everyone loves him.

Curran has been the Bulldogs' defensive leader on and off the field this season. He leads the team with three sacks and leads the SEC with 98 tackles. Despite his easygoing personality, he has developed into a vocal leader on the practice field, even calling for a players-only meeting after the defense allowed 38 points to Kentucky in which he joined with some of the seniors in preaching a return to Georgia's defensive tradition.

In the weight room, the locker room and on the field, Curran's dedication commands respect.

"His persona, the way he carries himself in here, it's such a great help to our strength staff, because he uses that leadership," Van Halanger said. "Even as a sophomore, I can point and say, ‘Hey, if you want to do it the Georgia way, do it that way,' because he does it."

When Georgia finishes its season, Curran plans to begin training again for his second shot at Taylor's record.

He'll get back in the gym, start hitting the weights even harder and try to add a few more pounds of muscle to a frame that is quickly running out of real estate.

After all, he set a goal for himself, and the only thing he enjoys more than working toward a goal is achieving it.

"You'll just see, everybody's all crowded around, the weight room just stops," Curran said. "Anybody going for a record gets attention."

Attention hasn't been hard for Curran to find this season. In the SEC and around the country, the undersized sophomore has made a name for himself as one of the hardest working players in college football.

At some point, the expectations every else has for Curran might even catch up with the ones he has for himself. Of course, by that time, he'll likely have his sights set on some new distant goal, one his teammates would consider impossible if they didn't know Curran so well.

"We haven't had anybody quite like him here that has that size and that kind of intensity and temperament and all those things," Van Halanger said. "I've been around great linebackers, and I just know the way Rennie plays, he's unbelievable."

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