Georgia running back Sony Michel (1) celebrates with wide receiver Jayson Stanley (2) after scoring on an 8-yard run in the first quarter against South Carolina at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Sony Michel trading Heisman hype for Bulldogs wins

That changed in 2017. With Michel en route to his second 1,000-yard season, he’s receiving the recognition that occasionally eluded him in years past.

Coach Kirby Smart sees a more driven, focused runner. His teammates see more power in his game. NFL evaluators see a guy with fewer body blows just waiting to carry the load for his own team.

During Saturday’s 24-10 win over South Carolina, Michel jumped into fifth place on Georgia’s all-time leading rusher list. He appears likely to settle for third place in the record books – a spot behind Chubb.

Georgia’s running-back group doesn’t mind sharing the glory. Each supports the other, and it’s helping their bodies for a playoff run.

“It helps keeps other backs fresh,” Michel said. “It gives other backs opportunities to showcase their talent.”

Chubb, who was adamant he doesn’t want to be in the Heisman Trophy discussion, is 13 yards from passing Bo Jackson for the fourth-most rushing yards in SEC history. And Michel couldn’t be happier for him.

“He’s a great running back, and he deserves to be on the list with the great running backs out there,” Michel said. “He’s an amazing player, an amazing person. He deserves it.”

Michel deserves props of his own right. He’s averaging 7.9 yards per carry and like Chubb, hasn’t exceeded 16 rushes in a game this season. He could’ve single-handidly defeated Florida, carrying the ball just six times for 137 yards.

He has 710 yards rushing and nine touchdowns on 90 attempts. Those results fare favorably with Heisman-favorite Saquon Barkley at Penn State, who has 864 yards and nine touchdowns on 152 attempts. Barkley is the featured runner and primary focal point of the opposing defense, however, and has also offered more in the passing and return game.

“My whole idea is to go out there and play ball, do what I can to help this football team in any way,” Michel said.

It’s fair to assume with a featured role, Michel would be firmly in the award discussions. Instead he averages roughly 11 carries a game. But Georgia is 9-0, and that’s all that matters to the senior.

“Me personally, and I think I can speak for the rest of the backs on this team, we’re not really into the personal accolades, those types of things,” he said. “Sharing the load, being able to have those other guys to challenge and push you is the ultimate goal. 

“And winning games. It’s fun to win games. You’re not worried about rushing for such-and-such amount of yards or scoring such-and-such amount of touchdowns. The ultimate goal is just to win the games. That’s what the other guys in the room, myself included, are here for.”

Smart has instilled that mindset in his players. They echo the simple “we just want to win” sentiment regardless of situation or position. Michel gave Smart props for the program-wide selflessness.

“Coach uses this saying, ‘humility is one week away,’ and it’s true,” he said. “We know as a football team that we’re going to be playing good football teams. They’re going to give us their best, and we’re going to give them our best. And we’ve got to prepare each week like it’s the last game.”

Georgia has clinched the SEC East, which sends it to Mercedes-Benz Stadium searching for its first SEC championship since 2005.

Much was made of the team ignoring the accomplishment. Georgia won’t celebrate the moment and dodges overtures to look ahead. Auburn is trying to spoil a perfect season, and preventing that is UGA’s lone focus.

“There’s no time for celebrations,” Michel said. “We’ve got another great team in front of us to prepare for.”

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