HOOVER, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference’s Media Days lacked the usual star power from its players until about 8 a.m. Central Time on Thursday, when Georgia’s Todd Gurley walked into the Hyatt Regency Birmingham.
The explosive running back can be a reluctant interview even with a dozen or so reporters in the comfortable confines of the Butts-Mehre building back in Athens, Ga. His answers can be curt.
At media days, he got thrown into the throng of more than 1,200 journalists for the four-day football kickoff event.
Guess what? Gurley showed he can turn it on when he wants to.
“I think it is important,” coach Mark Richt said. “I talked to him about it (Wednesday) a little bit; just talking to him about embracing it and understanding that if he’s going to continue on with his football career, which we all think he will, it will be a great experience for him and a chance for him to grow as a pro and also to bless the university, hopefully, with his presence here.”
After almost 20 minutes of answering questions in the main media room, someone working for the SEC told reporters that Gurley’s time was done. Gurley was in the middle of a question, but finished his answer.
Richt told Gurley in January about what was coming on this day.
“It’s a once in a lifetime chance,” Gurley said after arriving on a flight on a university-owned plane from Athens. “I took him (up) on that offer.”
Gurley wore a bow tie, as did teammates Chris Conley and Ramik Wilson, for the occasion.
“I went and bought one,” he said. “How do y’all like it, though? Pretty cool.”
Georgia likes Gurley when he’s in uniform and not dealing with a sprained ankle or injured hip as he did last season when he missed three games and parts of some others.
“When he’s healthy, he’s a force,” Richt said. “He’s a man to be reckoned with. There ain’t no doubt about that. ... In any given game, he can be the difference.”
Gurley will be in the spotlight this season.
After rushing for 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns in two seasons, the Tarboro, N.C., product is the face of the program now that SEC career passing-yardage leader Aaron Murray is in the NFL.
Gurley isn’t trying to rush the start of the season.
He got away for about a week to California.
“The summertime, I call it my time,” he said. “That’s my time to get better at a lot of stuff as far as eating, training, trying to sleep. I’ve definitely been training a lot harder just preparing and being smarter about a lot of things.”
While Richt agrees with the work Gurley is doing, he didn’t think South Carolina should have been picked to win the east at the SEC Media Days.
“I’d have us first,” he said. “We’ve got a very good team.”
The 6-foot-1 Gurley said he’s dropped about 5 pounds and is now at 225. Richt has noticed the work paying off.
“I see that he’s getting in great condition for this season,” Richt said. “I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
The NFL hasn’t had a first-round draft pick at running back the past two seasons.
Gurley could change that.
But being one of the top 32 isn’t good enough for him.
“You’ve got to make somebody want you,” Gurley said. “It’s all about your performance on the field. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to make somebody take me with the first pick, the second pick or whatever. That’s why I’m going to go out there and give it my all and play hard.”
More than three and a half hours in, Gurley’s day was almost done.
He was headed toward radio row and heading down an escalator where a throng of Alabama fans waited to catch a glimpse of coach Nick Saban, who was en route upstairs.
“It’s been good,” Gurley said.
Georgia fans don’t have to worry about him coming out of the day too worn down.
His voice was still strong at the end. He said he only needed to down about four bottles of water.
“Same questions over and over,” he said, “but it’s fun.”