Gurley, Marshall turn Bulldogs game film into buddy movie

Staff writer Chip Towers contributed to this article.

We lead off with what surely must be a sore point, the potential wedge that will split asunder one of the greatest buddy acts since Hope and Crosby hit the road to Zanzibar.

Last season Georgia freshman running back Todd Gurley toted the ball 222 times. His Tobacco Road running mate, Keith Marshall, the other half of a matched set of highly recruited backs, got about half the carries (117). Yardage (1,385-759) and touchdowns (17-8) consequently titled heavily Gurley’s way.

Why, back in Raleigh, N.C., Marshall’s folks must have been keeping an account of each carry like a pawn broker does each dollar, ever fuming over the bottom line.

Except for one thing. Marshall’s father, Warren Marshall, has been there. James Madison’s career leader in yards and carries from 1982-86 and a sixth-round NFL draft pick, he understands the position. He doesn’t need to live it through his son. He gets the bigger picture.

Reason and understanding prevail.

“Most colleges now that run the ball really need to have more than one good back, clearly because of the pounding that you take. If you have aspirations at the next level, you certainly don’t want to take all the punishment here,” he said.

The elder Marshall accumulated 737 carries in college. No one told his body it was only Division I-AA (now FCS) players running into him. The aches did not differentiate.

“They say a running back only has so many carries, there’s probably some truth to that. I had a tremendous college career, but I took a beating in four years,” he said.

“Now they’re allowing kids to leverage off each other. It helps the program; it helps the kids; it’s a win-win for both parties.”

Georgia’s tag-team backfield enters its sophomore season with nothing but high praise and higher hopes for how the arrangement is working out.

Look at Alabama — Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon co-existed the heck out Notre Dame in last season’s BCS championship game. Gurley and Marshall give the Bulldogs the kind of combo running attack that is fashionable in all the best circles.

Go ahead and wonder how they will manage the carries and the implied jealousy that comes with a difference in workload.

“What people on the outside looking in don’t understand is we’re so close as a team and with each other,” Marshall said. “Obviously everything is competitive. You want to be the best, that’s part of being an athlete and a man,” he continued. “At the same time, we’re helping each other out. There is no animosity. Todd and I never had any controversy.”

Wonder also when the Bulldogs might double up and employ them on the field at the same time. Plenty of other people have. Bulldogs coach Mark Richt generally has poo-pooed the idea.

“People are always talking about it, but it’s not like we both can get the ball. So, it really wouldn’t matter,” Gurley said.

Meanwhile, the two of them just keep rolling along, Butch and Sundance, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andre 3000 and Big Boi, seemingly quite happy with the way things are.

High school friendship grows up

The story of their mutual past has only strengthened this notion that Marshall and Gurley are inexorably linked, practically blood kin.

Marshall is the “big city” part of the equation, born in Raleigh. Gurley grew about an hour away, in more bucolic Tarboro.

From afar they admired each other’s work on the football field. They got a closer look on the track circuit, where Gurley was the hurdles specialist and Marshall the 100-meter guy. They raced head-to-head once, in the 100 meters at a U.S. Junior Olympic team qualifier. Gurley already had secured a spot in the hurdles, and was none too distressed to finish well back of Marshall.

From the larger school, Marshall was the more highly touted recruit. By the time the courting got really serious, the two of them had formed enough of an alliance that they were conspiring to sign with the same college.

First, Marshall punked Georgia’s running back coach Bryan McClendon, calling him, telling him had decided to sign with someone else. Just kidding, he said, a second before the coach would likely swallow his tongue.

Then Gurley did the same thing. “Keith had told me he had done it and thought, hah, that’s a good one right there. I didn’t plan on doing it, but when I called (McClendon) I thought, ‘Let me play around with him a little bit,’” Gurley said.

So was completed a most promising merger, to the sound of teasing laughter.

The relationship has evolved nicely. The families have grown close enough that the players’ mothers even exchanged little gifts last Christmas. Roommates as freshmen, Gurley and Marshall were in the process of moving to other quarters this semester, still together.

“I think they just really connected initially,” said Marshall’s mother, Denise Marshall. “Obviously having shared experiences helps. They are very different personalities but it’s a good match.”

Partnership of power and speed

They pair better on a football field than Cabernet and filet.

At around 232 pounds, Gurley is nearly 15 pounds heavier than Marshall. Those who attend Bulldogs games are treated to a spontaneous physics lesson. You can’t help but learn that force equals mass times acceleration once you pick up on the diverging styles of Mssrs. Gurley and Marshall.

Gurley employs those few extra pounds without subtlety. There was no better example of putting mass to work than in one run last year against Vanderbilt, a 29-yard touchdown through the grasp of no fewer than five Commodores.

“He was just running zone left, and he broke one tackle, then he broke another tackle and then he stiff-armed another kid. It was almost like the ‘oh-my-God-a-freshman-Herschel play,’” recalled tight end Arthur Lynch, who just aced his Bulldog history exam. (RIP Larry Munson.)

Concerning his counterpart, Marshall can’t spread enough sunshine.

“The biggest thing that separates him from everybody is that he’s big and fast,” Marshall said. “You’re not going to bring him down with an arm tackle; it’s going to take a good, solid tackle. Most running backs like that don’t have the speed he has.

“He works hard; he runs the ball extremely hard. Honestly, he’s just a beast.”

Marshall favors the acceleration part of the equation. Breaking touchdown runs of 75 and 72 yards against Tennessee, outrunning anyone in orange, was the signature for his freshman year.

Who has the better straight-away speed? Gurley will bow to history.

“He beat me (in the 100) didn’t he?” he said. “Hey, man, he’s a fast guy. Watch the film, you’ll see.

“You ain’t gonna catch him.”

Neither has been caught doing anything stupid with their new-found celebrity either, which qualifies as a news flash in the tumultuous, Johnny Football-living-large, every-Tweet’s-a-headline environment of big-time college football.

It’s not that these guys wouldn’t catch an NBA Finals game in Miami, a la Manziel, if they had a chance. “Sure I’d do it, and I know Todd would for sure — just part of having fun in college, part of the experience,” Marshall said. They just haven’t had the opportunity.

They both cast Athens as the perfect college town — talking like they’re on the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce payroll. Yes, it is a fishbowl for prominent players, they said. But they make avoiding trouble sound pretty simple.

“I’m not into the hype and all that stuff,” Marshall said. “When you walk around, people know you, so you got to be smart with the decisions you make. But I’m not a big guy to go out or do crazy stuff. Neither is Todd. It hasn’t been that big of a deal because we’re pretty low key.”

“It’s what you make it, man,” Gurley said. “Everybody’s not going to be here to support you. You got to make the right decisions.”

It’s Todd and Keith, not Gurshall

So much effort has been made to liken the two, what about their differences? For they are numerous.

Gurley’s dreads are considerably longer than Marshall’s. He had the head start. “My dad made me wait until college to grow them out,” Marshall said.

While Marshall seems more engaged during interviews, Gurley is the one with the more outgoing personality around his friends and teammates.

Marshall is the laid-back one. Gurley, in fact, can be downright goofy in his attempts to lighten the drudge work of football.

“He’s silly,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said of Gurley. “I hear they guys say Todd’s the silliest guy on the team. They make fun of what he wears all the time. He’s not afraid to speak and have a good time. I doesn’t bother me at all when the guys crack a joke or are out there having a good time. I like that.”

“I just do dumb stuff, say dumb things,” Gurley said. “I kinda have that positive energy when I’m around. If I’m having a good day I’m going to try to make everyone else have a good day. Whether you’re down or not, I’m still going to play with you.”

As roommates go, Marshall would admit to being the more slovenly of the two. “There are days when you just want to be organized,” said Gurley, auditioning for the Felix Unger role in “The Odd Couple.”

Still, all anyone wants to do is mash them together as a hybrid known as “Gurshall.” That, of course, was the umbrella under which both labored last season, a name so liltingly close to Herschel, as in Walker, that Georgia fans could not resist it.

At the stoop to Year 2, Richt has come out in support of dropping the Gurshall sobriquet in favor of allowing the players their own identities.

Gurley and Marshall would second the motion. It’s not that the nickname is so bothersome when they are already faceless beneath their helmets. But when out in civilian wear, they would kind of like to enjoy their given names and singular personalities.

“The only time it gets over the top is when we’re out, or I’m out by myself and somebody comes up and says, ‘What’s up Gurshall?’” Marshall said. “My name’s Keith, not Gurshall. On the field with me and Todd, it’s all right. But outside of that, I’m my own person.”

Good luck breaking cleanly with the fusion of surnames, for it represents just the kind of link with a glorious past that a Bulldogs fan will clutch to the last breath.

Again, we will defer to the sage, experienced interested bystander for a perspective on the subject.

“I think it’s kind of a neat little thing,” Warren Marshall said. “I’m a big Herschel Walker fan, like everyone else who has watched college football, so I don’t have a problem with it one way or another.

“Let the fans enjoy it as long as they can.”