Freshman making his mark in Georgia backfield

Updated: October 16, 2003, 11:20 AM ET
ESPN

ATHENS, Ga. -- Kregg Lumpkin's career at Georgia didn't start out the way he wanted.

He's headed in the right direction now.

The freshman gave a tantalizing glimpse of his considerable potential in a victory over Tennessee last week, creating a 22-yard touchdown run with all sorts of talent and ingenuity.

After being stuffed at the line, Lumpkin ricocheted to the outside, outraced the defense and soared across the goal line for his second college touchdown.

"You just try to find the hole," he said with a shrug, "and keep your feet moving at all times."

Georgia coach Mark Richt was more glowing in his assessment of Lumpkin's run -- which is just what the Bulldogs had in mind when they signed the highly touted runner from suburban Atlanta.

"That might have been the best run of the year," Richt said.

Lumpkin enrolled at Georgia for summer school, allowing him to work out with the team and ease the transition to college life. When practice began, however, he was usually tied up with classes and exams, forcing him to miss some crucial days when Richt was installing the offense.

Then, the first time Lumpkin got in pads, he pulled a hamstring. That forced him to sit out the rest of the preseason, along with the first two games of the regular season.

Richt toyed with the idea of redshirting Lumpkin, which would have been a bitter setback to the 6-foot-1, 211-pound freshman. When starting tailback Tony Milton was slowed by a lingering leg injury, those plans changed.

Lumpkin was in. He hasn't looked back.

"He's just now getting enough repetitions so that he is really understanding the schemes," Richt said. "I think his role will continue to expand, especially if he keeps running like he has been."

Ken Rucker, who coaches the running backs, believes Lumpkin has the potential to be a dominating player in the Southeastern Conference.

Working his way into a three-back rotation with sophomore Tyson Browning and redshirt freshman Michael Cooper, Lumpkin has rushed for 124 yards on 27 carries, a 4.6-yard average.

"He's got great speed. He's got size. He catches the ball well," Rucker said. "He's a complete back."

When Lumpkin gets a better grasp of the offense -- especially the blocking schemes -- he'll really have a chance to shine. He's already impressed the coaches with his quick grasp of Richt's complex scheme.

"It's like night and day from the first game," Rucker said. "He knows it all. It's just a heat-of-the-battle type of thing. When the speed cranks up, he'll sometimes miss an assignment."

During the recruiting process, Lumpkin visited Alabama, Florida and LSU -- but Georgia was the only school he wanted to attend. He was impressed with the coaching staff, liked the offense and wanted to stay close to home.

Lumpkin starred at Stephenson High School in Lithonia, playing in the same backfield with Reggie Ball. While Lumpkin headed off to play for the Bulldogs, Ball signed with rival Georgia Tech and quickly earned the starting quarterback job.

Lumpkin didn't progress quite as quickly at Georgia.

"I was frustrated a little bit," he said. "But I just kept focused until I got my chance. I knew the running back situation would be a rotation-type thing. I just had to be patient and wait for my time."

That time is rapidly approaching. While Browning is the starter, Lumpkin is listed at No. 2 on the depth chart. By all indications, it's only a matter of time before he winds up on top.

Looking around the football facility, where photos of Herschel Walker and Garrison Hearst are prominently displayed, Lumpkin is looking forward to leaving his mark.

"I'd be glad," he said with a smile, "to be on the wall here at Georgia."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index