FOXBORO — Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta could turn into a showcase for two former Georgia running backs.
Patriots rookie Sony Michel and the Rams’ Todd Gurley were teammates for one season (2014) as Bulldogs. Gurley was suspended four games for accepting money to sign autographs before suffering a torn ACL in his first game back against Auburn. He played in six games and then declared for the NFL draft following his junior year.
Gurley’s absence opened an avenue for Michel, who rushed for 410 yards on 64 carries with five touchdowns as a true freshman. Despite Gurley’s difficulties, Michel said he looked up to his backfield mate.
“We were great teammates and just like any teammates you have good relationships,” Michel said yesterday. “He’s a guy that I’ve watched, I’ve watched his game. I like his game, I respect his game.
“He’s one of the top players in this league.”
Michel played four years at Georgia and finished third on the Bulldogs’ all-time rushing list with 3,368 yards, bypassing both Gurley and Garrison Hearst. Gurley and Michel were both first-round picks. Gurley went to the Rams with the 10th overall pick in 2015 while the Patriots secured Michel with the 31st selection last April.
“Everybody knows there are great running backs at Georgia,” Michel said. “But I think it’s most important that for my team, we get a chance to compete in this game and do the best we can and I’m sure it’s the same for him.”
Gurley rushed for 1,106 yards in his first NFL season and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press. Michel played in 13 games and finished with 931 yards on 209 carries with six touchdowns.
Michel rushed for 129 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns in the divisional round win against the Chargers and added 113 yards on 29 carries with two touchdowns against the Chiefs in the AFC title game.
“It’s part of the growing process and I understand that and you go through things, highs and lows just to get to where you want to go,” Michel said. “That’s life and part of the game of football and I respect it.”
Michel played in big games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, site of next week’s Super Bowl, his senior year at Georgia. The Bulldogs downed Auburn in the SEC title game but fell to Alabama in the FBS championship.
“This is two different experiences, two different levels and it’s a whole different environment,” he said. “But you kind of have to take the same approach about preparing, it is all about your preparation.
“It’s pretty cool to be in Georgia but it’s most important that we are in the Super Bowl. The only thing that matters to me is the football game and there’s nothing outside those lines that matter.”