When Ken Malcome decided to leave the Georgia program for a chance to earn more playing time, one Georgia commitment and future signee became extremely important to the program.
Boone (Orlando, Fla.) running back A.J. Turman is set to be the Bulldogs' third-team running back when he reaches campus this summer, and his coach for all four years of high school, Phil Ziglar who is now at Hagerty High School, expects big things.
"I coached Stacey Mack who played six years in the NFL with Jacksonville and then went with the Titans. I can tell you that A.J. is better than him. A.J. is getting bigger and stronger too. That is what I am seeing now and he is maintaining his speed," said Ziglar. "I think he is going to be a big, big back by the time he gets to Georgia. His work ethic is unbelievable. He would work out with us with the weights and our speed camp. Then he would leave us and go work out with his own trainer. I finally had to call his trainer and ask for him to back off because A.J. was wearing down.
"He did this throughout the season as we lifted during the season. He works at everything he does. I've spent 23 years at Boone High School and I've had a lot of backs at that high school. I've had running backs play big time ball and I'm telling you right now that A.J. Turman is the best back I've coached. I had Reggie Demps at Oakridge High School that went to Clemson and A.J. is the best back I've had in 37 years of coaching."
The 2012 season was a trying one for both Ziglar and Turman at Boone as injuries riddled the offense.
According Ziglar, however, his four-star running back kept making things happen despite the loss of some key players up front.
"The thing that stands out about A.J. is that we were not very strong in the offensive line this year, and the thing about it was that he came in and we started out looking like we would be pretty good. Then we lost two offensive linemen right in the first game. He went for 225 yards in the first game in the kickoff classic. Then in the second game he went for 236 and in that game was when we lost our left guard and left tackle," he said. "When we lost them, we lost our pulling side because we run the counter a lot. We just dropped off considerably up front and the amazing thing to me was that the following game we were trying to find chemistry up front and he dropped down to 115 yards.
"That is how big of a drop those two linemen made. We played a tough schedule, and the next game I noticed that he started to make his own yards. All 1,400-plus yards were him. He was making things happen on his own. There were a lot of three and four-yard runs where he was grinding it out. That is where I became more impressed with him than I had any back before. I knew he had speed. I knew if he got into space he was gone. I knew he was a downhill player, but you have a kid get pounded like that it is a little different. He had a good line for the last couple of years and now with a weaker line, he was making things happen on his own. He didn't complain at all."
At 6-foot-0, 210 pounds, Turman has made a name for himself as a big, powerful runner who is dangerous once he gets downhill due to his excellent speed.
While Turman had plenty of splash plays at Boone, Ziglar believes that his own offensive philosophy held back the Rivals250 prospect.
"He has great hands first of all. If I had been a coach that likes to throw the ball he would have been a better back," said Ziglar. "I'm so old school, and I believe in controlling the clock that he didn't get a chance to catch it much."
The future Bulldogs' ability to make plays on the field was impressive to Ziglar and other onlookers, but there is much more to Turman than what people see on the field.
His former head coach also believes he has uncommon leadership skills to go with his playmaking ability.
"A.J. is not a "rah rah" guy, but the kids knew his leadership ability," he said. "If a kid was having trouble, you could see A.J. taking him aside. When you are getting the ball 25 times a game and your fullback is good enough to be a tailback, it can be tough on that kid. A.J. was always the first to tell the guys he appreciated the sacrifices they made and the work they did for him. You don't see kids do that too much anymore. I saw it and I heard it. Even when we were going through the tough times and everyone was hurting, you didn't hear A.J. talk about that. Everything that came out of his mouth was positive. That is the same way he is all the time. His teachers love him and he sometimes seems too good to be true."
Ziglar admits that when the recruitment process started for his star tailback, he didn't envision Turman picking UGA.
After the commitment, however, things all started to make sense as he spent more time with the Georgia staff.
"We are a highly-disciplined kind of program and he has a disciplined family. He is a very religious kid. I think that is what drew him to Coach (Mark) Richt," said Ziglar. "He understands what is important in his life. I was kind of surprised when he chose Georgia to be honest with you. But it all made sense when I met Coach (Tony) Ball and Coach Richt and got to know their personalities. He is a great fit at Georgia. That is a great fit for him."
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