August 31, 2012

Fresh start, new beginning

As Georgia prepares for Saturday's season-opener against Buffalo (12:21, SEC-Network), no doubt Bulldog fans are anxious to witness the college debuts of freshmen running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

Meanwhile, Ken Malcome keeps chugging along.

By now, the former Southwest DeKalb star's story is a familiar one.

Once considered an afterthought behind former teammate Isaiah Crowell, Malcome quit the team for a day prior to the start of last season, ultimately returning before earning starts against Georgia Tech and Michigan State in the Outback Bowl.

Saturday at Sanford Stadium, it's a more mature Malcome who takes the field as starter, a player who has now earned his coaches trust and anxious to take advantage of what's considered a new chapter in his football life.

Instead of looking to follow, Malcome's now expected to lead. It's a role he feels suits him well.

"It's different, but I see how coaches now look to me to keep Todd and Keith more focused," Malcome said. "They look to me to make sure, so I see a lot of stuff being handed to me, which is good. I'm more mature, both on and off the field, so I think it's a good thing. Keith and Todd, they listen to things I have to say. I've got responsibility now, and I'm going to roll with it."

Head coach Mark Richt considers Malcome one of the team's real success stories.

"I'm really proud of him. He got to a point in his career where he thought he should leave Georgia because he didn't think he'd get to play much," Richt recalled. "But he felt like he should go a day or two later, and once he was living that decision out, he realized that it wasn't the right one. He didn't want to quit, and he wanted a chance to come back. I told him that if he wanted to come back, I wanted to see his best and not only in the field but also in the classroom and everywhere else."

A perceived lack of playing time wasn't Malcome's only concern.

There was also some private, off-the-field issues the running back admits were at the time weighing him down.

Malcome declined to discuss those past troubles earlier this week, only saying he's a better person for going through what he has.

"Growing up, it wasn't the worse story, some had it better, but it wasn't the worse," Malcome said. "I'm mature. I'm still the person who used to have problems, but I'm mature now and I'm going to keep going."

According to Richt, the first thing that Malcome did to regain the trust and confidences of the Bulldog offensive coaches was to simply get to work.

"He didn't complain or look around at the competition, but he started to work," Richt said. "He became the best he could be in the classroom and on the field, and then good things started happening for him. He knows what to do and how to do it, and he's been practicing his tail off. Good things have been happening to Ken, and hopefully this will continue when he steps on the field."

Malcome isn't making any body predictions.

"I feel like I can be the man; I just got to prove it," he added. "I've got to prove it before I say anything."

Nerves, he continued, won't be a problem.

That wasn't the case when he made his first career start last year against Georgia Tech, but after opening against Michigan State, he sees Saturday's opener as simply another opportunity to show coaches he's worthy of their trust.

"I don't see the difference. I thought last year was bigger as far as being nervous, but I think me starting and playing the last couple of games really helped my confidence," he said. "It's not my first game as a starter; I know what to expect. I'm happy I'm starting, but I'm not treating it any different."

Experience certainly seems to be paying off.

"I've matured a lot as far as decision making and knowing what's important," he said. "Plus, as I've gotten older the game has slowed down for me. The game is coming to me now, and that's a good thing."

Richt, too, is anxious to see how Malcome's final chapter reads.

"The book on his career hasn't been fully written, but at the rate he's going if he continues to progress like he has it's going to be a wonderful story. He still has a ways to go to finish strong and make it a story worth writing, but he certainly has come a long way," Richt said. "There are so many of our guys who have had to overcome things. I think everybody in life - we all have our stories, we all have our issues that we need to overcome. Some things seem more drastic than others, but it's real to everybody. Ken is doing well. I'm happy for him right now. I'm proud for him."

Malcome's not ruling anything out.

The chance to make an impact in the Bulldog backfield is all he's ever wanted. It's an opportunity he intends to take full advantage of.

"I really feel that way. I've got three more years of it, too," Malcome said. "There's no telling what's going to happen."