UGA freshman RB Brian Herrien's emergence a testament to his character
Among the notable performances in Georgia’s 33-24 victory against North Carolina, Brian Herrien’s might have been the most surprising.
If asked to name five freshmen on the Bulldogs’ roster, fans would likely throw out names like Jacob Eason, Isaac Nauta, Ben Cleveland, Mecole Hardman or Julian Rochester. In fact, Herrien likely wouldn’t even be the first freshman named at his position – that honor would go to Elijah Holyfield. But in Georgia’s season opener, Herrien made a bigger impact than any freshman not named Eason.
After veteran running back Brendan Douglas fumbled in the second quarter, it was Herrien who entered the game to spell Nick Chubb on the team’s next possession. The 6-foot, 210-pound back made the most of his first college carry, scoring on a 19-yard pitch down the right sideline.
Herrien’s touchdown (below) gave Georgia a 14-7 lead. He continued to be effective, carrying six more times for 40 yards.
It was an unexpected effort, but one that has been in the making since Herrien became the final commitment of Georgia’s 2016 class. The Douglasville prospect was certainly talented enough to don the red and black, but there was an even bigger obstacle he needed to overcome.
Early in his high school career, Herrien fell behind the curve academically. His grades were below the NCAA qualifications for academic eligibility, an issue that kept him from signing with any team on signing day this spring.
Determined to prove himself in the classroom, however, Herrien worked hard to improve his grades. On the final day of classes his senior year, Herrien’s grades were calculated and it was determined that he had raised his GPA over the necessary threshold for eligibility. Over the final two years of his high school career, Herrien earned all As and Bs with only one C.
Herrien put himself in a position to succeed, and Georgia’s final member of the freshman class became the first to score as a Bulldog.
The touchdown drew cheers from the pro-Georgia crowd at Saturday’s game but had a different effect on coach Kirby Smart.
“I’ll tell you what, tears almost came to my eyes when that kid had the touchdown run,” Smart said during his post-game press conference. “Because, a lot of y’all don’t know how far he came. I mean, he’s sitting in his second semester and he’s got to make four or five As to even be eligible.”
Despite the academic worries, Smart knew that Herrien had the ability to be an effective college football player. Although Holyfield, one of the nation’s top running back prospects, was already committed, Smart made Herrien a priority upon arriving at Georgia.
“I had a great relationship with him from Alabama,” Smart said. “We thought he was a really good player when I was over there, and I was like ‘Just hang on, don’t sign. Just wait, we’ll be there for you if you make your grades.’ And for that kid to come as far as he did, get thrust into the limelight and go out there and do what he did, it’s really special.”
The Bulldogs have had no lack of talent at the running back position in recent years, and much of the team’s success has come courtesy of a superb backfield duo. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall broke into the SEC to earn the nickname “Gurshall,” eventually making way for Chubb and Sony Michel to assert themselves as the conference’s top tandem.
After Holyfield announced his commitment to Georgia, many fans wondered which top prospect would join him to become the next one-two punch between the hedges. None emerged, a fact that saddened a contingent of Bulldogs fans this offseason.
With one game in the books, it wasn’t Holyfield who became the freshman back who helped spark his team. Instead, it was the little-known running back who committed to the Bulldogs long after the pomp of national signing day had faded.
Herrien’s journey to Athens has been a long one, but it appears Georgia is ready to unleash another pair of freshmen backs after all.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.