As Isaiah Crowell's partner in the "Brother's Keeper" program, tight end Arthur Lynch said Thursday he's noticed quite a change in the player who quite possibly has been the most scrutinized athlete in the Mark Richt-era at Georgia.
Right or wrong, Crowell became the target for many a Bulldog fan's ire last fall. Some questioned if the former Carver star was giving his all, while others wondered out loud about his ability to play through, what on the surface, appeared to be minor injuries.
Granted, Crowell wasn't without blame as he along with Ken Malcome and Carlton Thomas were suspended for the game against New Mexico State for violating team rules.
But as the Bulldogs look ahead to spring practice, which gets underway March 20, Lynch says he's noticed quite the change in Crowell and is ready to predict greatness for the player many expected to do great things when he signed with Georgia just over a season ago.
"When you get to college, everything changes, academically, workouts and the season and I don't think he ever had to go to workouts demanding two hours a day," Lynch said. "It's different for everybody, but he's just a prime example because he was a highly touted guy, this or that, but there are always other guys who went through the same things he did, the only thing was they might have been redshirted and not expected to make as big an impact on the team."
Lynch said it's apparent to him that Crowell has turned an important page.
"Just to see him working with Coach T (Joe Tereshinski) in the sprints, working on mat drills and lifting
you can see he wants to get better and he's finally getting it," Lynch said. "Coach Richt always talks about the 'Georgia way.' Well, really, he's just talking about doing things the right way and (Crowell) is understanding how to do it at a speed where he's comfortable with. It's not for everybody right away, but I think he's maturing a lot which says a lot about himself. I expect nothing but good things from him."
Lynch isn't the only Bulldog who feels this way.
"It seems like he's more focused," fellow running back [db]Richard Samuel said of Crowell. "He knows what it takes, he knows the high level it takes to play in the SEC, he feels he knows what it takes to get there and what it takes to prepare."
That said, Lynch doesn't believe all the criticism levied at Crowell last year was fair.
"I think people wrongly scrutinized Isaiah," Lynch said. "People were so demanding of success, calling him the 'Savior'; everybody had the idea that he was the next Herschel. That's unfairly suited for him," Lynch said. "But I've seen him mature from the day he got here, when we had to drive him to workouts, to become the leader of his group during workouts."
But it was the notion that Crowell could not and would not play through injuries that Lynch said angers him the most.
Crowell was hampered last year by a myriad of ailments, including ribs, knee, wrist and ankle injuries, but still managed to lead the Bulldogs in rushing with 850 yards and five touchdowns.
"You never saw anyone taking shots at anybody else about injuries because all those expectations weren't put on their shoulders. Had Isaiah been a junior or a senior, I'd say maybe he should grind through it but I thought he grinded through it enough," Lynch said. "He sat out one game and he tried to play in that SEC Championship game when we needed him. You could tell in practice he was hurt. It wasn't like he was copping out in the game, because he couldn't reach the level of success that he could in the prior games. He was legitimately hurt and I thought he fought through it more than anyone else could expect. I was proud of him."
Lynch said those who booed Crowell after he came out of the SEC title game simply didn't understand the situation.
"I don't play running back, but an ankle, if I had a high ankle sprain, I could get through it because I don't have to make the same amount of cuts that he does," Lynch said. "But against LSU - a team that went on to play for the national championship people were booing him, I thought that was 1, disrespectful, and No. 2, I don't think anybody understands the pain that he was probably going through."
Lynch added that Crowell's persona is unlike what many expect.
"He's really just a quiet, humble kid. He'll never like talk bad, this or that. He just likes to chill, be low keyed," Lynch said. "He's a kid I think is going to make a lot of noise if he just keeps doing the things he's doing. I'm extremely proud of the way he's handled the pressure, post-season and now heading into spring and eventually the fall."