Thank You, Georgia

Feb 22 2018
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Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Feb 22 2018

E veryone was going nuts.

Jumping around and hugging and yelling and just running every which way while the confetti was flying and the fireworks were going off in the background.

But after I scored that game-winning touchdown in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma to send us to the national championship game, I only had one thing on my mind. The very first thought I had when I crossed the goal line — the VERY … FIRST … THOUGHT — was:

Let’s get on that plane right now and get back home to Georgia.

To Athens.

Back to one of my favorite places in the entire world, so we could celebrate with Dawg Nation and soak it all in together.

I was under the lights in Pasadena, and had just played in one of the most incredible college football games of my life, but all I could think about was getting back home to the Bulldog faithful.

Cal Sport Media via AP Images

That walk-off touchdown was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced, but a few hours earlier it wasn’t looking so good for us. We were down pretty big at halftime, and we weren’t playing well on either side of the ball. Guys were frustrated.

Before we could get too down, though, something really great began happening back in the locker room. We all just started looking each other in the eye and putting our arms around one another and saying….

“I got your back.”

Just those four simple words … along with a certain look.

And I truly believe those words were the turning point in that game for us. It wasn’t about any big rah-rah speeches, it was a more personal. The offensive players were saying it to the defensive guys, and those guys were saying it to us.

“I got your back.”

We meant it — all of us, to a man — and we came out of halftime determined and focused. The rest is … well you know what happened from there. But those four words have stuck with me ever since. And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that they really signify what UGA is all about.

Georgia is all about good people supporting one another and having each other’s backs.

Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

I’m going to miss you all. My people. Dawg Nation. You all mean the world to me, and it’s been like that since Day One.

It really is the people that make UGA such a special place. And I know that as well as anyone.

It wasn’t always easy for me at Georgia. Coming in as a top recruit and then not becoming the primary back was difficult, mainly because of the standard I’ve always set for myself. Nick Chubb is one of my best friends in the world, so that made things easier in some ways. But I’m not gonna lie, it was still tough at first.

The thing is, Georgia fans, and the whole UGA community, went out of their way to make it clear that I actually wasn’t a second-string back. You guys made me feel special, and every time my name was called, you showed me love as if I was the starter. Then, before every home game, the team would list me in the starting lineup. They’d have two running backs at the top of the depth chart, which is something you don’t see too many places do.

That support, and all the love I’ve been shown during my time at UGA is something I’ll never forget. And it’s definitely part of what made that Rose Bowl victory so special for me. Knowing that we’d accomplished something for our school, and for Bulldog fans everywhere, was incredible. We were out there representing for so many people who had supported us over the years, and we were able to bring them some joy. I couldn’t be more proud about that.

We all know the next game didn’t end up how we’d hoped, and it definitely wasn’t how I was looking to end my Georgia career, but I can truly say that we played our hearts out against Alabama. There was no point in time when we had any doubt about whether we were going to win that one. It just didn’t work out for us in the end.

But I really hope everyone out there understands how badly we wanted to bring that championship home for Dawg Nation. I know it still stings, for all of us, but I hope that we gave you all enough amazing memories throughout the season that you can forgive us for not getting it done on that night in Atlanta.

Bob Andres/TNS via ZUMA Wire

For me, it seems like that game just happened yesterday, but fast-forward six weeks and I’m now deep into my preparations for the NFL draft. I’ve been away from campus training, and I can already tell that moving on from Georgia is going to be … tough.

I’m going to miss being around the boys, of course, and all the friends I made at UGA. But I’m also going to miss lots of little things — the fun college stuff — that I enjoyed so much about being at Georgia.

For starters, I’m going to miss that ridiculous DJ booth in our locker room. Rashad Roundtree would hold down the fort in there on the turntables while Davin Bellamy and Trent Thompson and Dre Baker would always be trying to freestyle. Rashad would just throw on a beat, and then guys would jump on the mic and go with it. Those sessions were always so much fun.

I’m also definitely going to miss the burgers at Grindhouse. (Actually, I already miss those things.) Before games, Me, Nick, and Isaiah Wynn would always hit that place up. It was our spot. So I’m for sure going to miss those meals.

Actually, let me be specific here for you.

I’m going to miss the double.

Well done.

With pepper jack cheese.

And BBQ sauce.

And ketchup.

That’s what I’ll miss, right there.

Icon Sportswire via AP Images

It’s time for me to pay back some of that love you’ve shown me by doing big things in the NFL and making you all proud.

Mostly, though, I’m going to miss you all. My people. Dawg Nation. You all mean the world to me, and it’s been like that since Day One.

I often think back to when I took my official visit to UGA. Being there for that game against South Carolina, between the hedges? I mean….

I just knew.

I immediately got this feeling that Georgia was the place for me. And it wasn’t even about, you know, Ohhh, these facilities are the best I’ve ever seen. (They were!) Or Wow, this gear is the best-looking college stuff out there. (It is!) It just came down to all the amazing and kind people I met. Georgia fans, and everyone associated with UGA, are just the coolest, most supportive people in the world. You’ve been there for me every step of the way during my four years in Athens.

And now it’s time for me to pay back some of that love you’ve shown me by doing big things in the NFL and making you all proud.

I’m truly in awe of UGA’s legacy when it comes to producing NFL running backs. And ever since I became a Bulldog it’s always been a dream of mine to be looked at as one of those playmakers in the league representing for Georgia.

I mean, in my very first team meeting, I was sitting in that running backs room looking over at Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, just trying to keep my cool and not do something foolish. I didn’t know what to expect back then, but those guys welcomed me and Nick and took us under their wing. And it only got better from there in terms of learning what it takes to be an NFL-caliber back.

During my time at UGA, Herschel would roll through and show us love. Garrison Hearst would come back. Knowshon comes back. And on and on. That stuff rubs off on you. It’s inspiring. It makes you want to strive for greatness.

I mean, it would be some random Tuesday and you’d show up at the practice facility and Terrell Davis would be there chatting with everyone like it’s no big thing.

Terrell Davis!

Hall of Famer. One of the best backs ever. And all of sudden he’d be right next to me hyping up me and Nick about how well we’d been playing. Are you kidding me?

And now here I am, getting the opportunity to go out and earn my place in the league — to show that I can be another in the long line of great backs who came into the NFL from UGA and did his thing. It’s a tremendous honor. And it’s even cooler because I know I’ll have everyone from my school supporting me on this journey.

There are so many people at Georgia who have helped me along the way. Far too many to name. But before I get out of here, I do want to shout out a few people who have been especially important: Coach Smart and the entire coaching staff, our head athletic trainer Ron Courson, Jonas Jennings and Bryant Gantt in player development, our team chaplain Thomas Settles, Greg McGarity, our athletic director, and Carla Williams, who worked in the Athletics Department and recently became the AD at Virginia. Also, a special salute goes out to the staff of the Rankin Smith academic center, as well as all the professors who have taught me over the years.

And last but definitely not least, to the entire Dawg Nation — the fans, the student body, the coaches, all my teammates — I just want to tell you all how appreciative I am for everything you’ve done to make these past four years the best of my life.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never experience anything quite like that night at the Rose Bowl again, but no matter where I am, there will always be a part of me thinking about getting back to Georgia.

Go Dawgs!