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September 6, 2007ATHENS - You're supposed to need at least a year and often longer to fully recover from a torn ACL.
But there's Thomas Brown, running hard and feeling better than ever in the Georgia backfield, less than 11 months after doctors cut on his right knee.
You're supposed to do just enough to stay academically eligible when playing college football and there's a chance of moving on to the NFL.
But there's Thomas Brown, taking a huge load in the classroom this semester with an eye toward picking up his diploma in 3.5 years.
Never say no to this guy. He'll probably just prove you wrong.
``I have a lot of goals,'' Brown said. ``I really don't do anything else except go to class, go to practice and go home.''
While he tries to sneak in six hours of sleep each night, it's not easy. There are plays to learn and film to watch. There are books to read and assignments to write. But Brown figures it will all be worth it when he's playing in the NFL next season, with a Georgia diploma hanging on his wall.
He's taking seven classes this semester: four on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, three on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a total of 21 hours. Five of the courses are in speech, his major. He also signed up for African literature and philosophy. If he passes them all, he graduates.
Then he can turn his attention this spring to getting ready for the NFL draft.
``It would be sad to be here all this time and not walk away with a degree,'' Brown said. ``I come from a very educated family. My mother and father are both very educated. My sister, as well. I thought it was very important for myself and my family to get my degree.''
He's just as motivated on the field. After leading the No. 11 Bulldogs in rushing his first two years, Brown tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee midway through last season. He could have taken a redshirt year to make sure he was fully healed, but he read up enough to know that a shorter comeback was possible.
Brown was already running by the summer. He reported for the start of preseason camp a mere 9.5 months after his injury proclaiming himself fully recovered.
``I saw the minimum time for coming back from an ACL was usually six to seven months,'' he said. ``So I kind of made that my goal. I wanted to be back to doing everything, or close to everything, by mid-June. I tried to stay pretty focused and pretty disciplined with my regimen.''
Of course, Brown still had plenty of doubters going into last Saturday's season opener against Oklahoma State. But they hushed up after his performance: 12 carries for 48 yards and two touchdowns, three kickoff returns for 80 yards, and a 7-yard pass reception.
Just to have Brown returning kickoffs was remarkable. That was how he hurt his knee last season, and no one would have blamed him if he had asked out of special teams duty.
``Oh yeah, everybody told me that,'' Brown said with a smile. ``That was kind of the first question when I came back: Was I going to get back there and do kickoff returns. When I told them I would, a lot of people had some very strong, choice words for me. But I don't play the game scared.''
Georgia's coaches and players are amazed at Brown's focus when he puts his mind to something.
``I don't know what makes him tick the way he does,'' head coach Mark Richt marveled. ``It's like he's got something to prove. His determination and mental toughness are probably unmatched on our team since I've been here. I can't really think of anyone who's tougher than him.''
In fact, Richt was the one who revealed Brown's class load. The player planned to keep it to himself.
``He wants to graduate this semester, and he needs 21 hours to do it,'' Richt said. ``A lot of people were telling him not to do it. But he thrives when people say he can't do it. Whether he makes it or not, I don't know. But his goal is to get ready for the NFL when the season's over, and to graduate in 3.5 years. He's not going to prolong it.''
Quarterback Matthew Stafford got a sampling of Brown's makeup when the players gathered for summer workouts.
``We were all out there conditioning and working hard, and he's sprinting at the front. I was just amazed,'' Stafford recalled. ``I never saw him with ice on his knee. He never missed a day because of a swollen knee or anything. But if anybody could do it, it's him. He's got the most freakish body ever.''
Brown's workload is likely to increase Saturday in the Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina. Fellow senior Kregg Lumpkin broke a thumb against Oklahoma State and will likely need at least a month to fully recover.
Look for Brown to take plenty of handoffs. Look for Brown to return every kickoff he can. Look for Brown to take his place on the punt coverage team.
Yep, that's right. He also serves as a ``gunner'' on Georgia punts, running downfield in hopes to getting to the returner just as he's catching the ball.
``He just loves football,'' Richt said. ``He's doing everything he can to help us win. He wants to be the best at everything he does.''