How Sony Saved the Program
He couldn’t take it anymore.
Personal sacrifice for family, or in this case, team betterment was something Sony Michel learned from his father down in Miami. This was not the time for that, though; this was something different.
Felt like the weight of the world rested on both of them, on their broad shoulders. They came in together – ride or die together. They’d go out together, too.
THE INTERVENTION ~ Tennessee Volunteers offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was oft-maligned by the fans in his three-year tenure holding that same position in Athens. In retrospect, it could have gone so much worse, quickly. Middle of his first year at the University of Georgia, junior running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb met Chaney in his office. The meeting was called by the talented runners.
While anybody who knows shy power back Nick Chubb personally, or saw him on HBO’s reality show Hard Knocks as an NFL rookie, can attest, Chubb is a man of very few words. He is shy, not media savvy or verbose at all and certainly not loquacious.
Sony Michel simply must have led the private conversation in Chaney’s office, because that is what he had to do. He did what he had to at UGA.
Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart had hired Chaney, along with counterpart offensive line guru Sam Pittman, upon arrival. Kirby remains to this day a defensive system and top-notch recruiting specialist, and a known big-game motivator. Offense has never been a great strength of his. And, there are some fairly obvious examples of it as a straight up weakness. Kirby has to trust his offensive coordinator. Chaney was failing him.
Sony (and Chubb), coming off an annual beating in Jacksonville at the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party by the hands of the hated Florida Gators, a game in which Sony saw no key action and Chubb was ineffective in limited touches, demanded the rock.
They both could have left early for the NFL, and they both returned to school at the end of that season. They did so after nearly winning out, dropping only one game the rest of the way – a home loss to rival Georgia Tech in which Sony totally went off. Chaney had been leaning on a triumvirate of talented true freshmen: QB Jacob Eason, WR Riley Ridley and TE Isaac Nauta. Georgia was a young, finesse team.
Sony changed that.
The next season, the Dawgs embodied power running football. It was so great! The duo combined for 2,500 rushing yards and surged to the top of the two-man NCAA rushing charts, ever, while Georgia won the SEC for the first time since 2005 and took out an explosive Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. I was on hand as Sony Michel, finally, became Georgia’s feature player and won the game MVP, in the College Football Playoff.
The next game was to be played back in the Peach State, where the #2 (Chubb) and #3 (Michel) runners on Georgia’s Running Back U rushing list battled the greatest football coach in college football history, yankee Nick Saban and his heralded Alabama Crimson Tide.
Saban and former Georgia defensive coordinator (and current UT head coach) Jeremy Pruitt had a great game plan for Chubb. To contain Chubb, you have to get to him early before those massive thighs start churning. The Bama D-line was superior as a whole to the Georgia O-line in talent, and Chubb was minimized by penetration to the point of non-factor.
No such luck with Sony.
He went off, again. And this was not the weak Oklahoma Sooners D; this was mighty BAMA. He gashed them behind all-world blocking from future first-rounder Isaiah Wynn on delayed runs, especially in the first half, and then Chaney inexplicably went away from the run in the second half.
When the national championship contest was on the line late, Sony was battling some cramping on the sideline while Chubb was benched in favor of true freshman runner D’Andre Swift, who simply did not seize the spotlight. That game – much like the SEC championship game of the 2018 season which pitted the same two teams in the same building in Atlanta – should have been over. The great running program should have won both.
In the end, the two friends, were together, seated heartbroken in the end zone. It was over, finally, college ball. The New England Patriots drafted Sony ahead of Chubb at the back of the first round and the top of the second. Sony and Wynn – who went ahead of both but behind UGA’s greatest-ever linebacker Roquan Smith – were reunited in the Boston area. While Wynn suffered a catastrophic injury this year and was unable to be a big part of Tom Brady’s (ninth!) Super Bowl run, look for Sony and Wynn to shine in their special two-man, run-my-hole game for years to come under Saban’s former mentor, legendary NFL head coach Bill Belichick.
LEGACY OF TEAM LEADERSHIP ~ Sony still chose coach Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs out of south Florida, even though they had Todd Gurley (#4 in school history) still eligible and were signing the more physically-powerful Chubb in-state. As flyguy2stackz, he wrote a rap song about his school of choice, and it’s actually a pretty good anthem.
Georgia had attrition, injuries and suspension issues in Sony’s first few months as a Bulldog. Sony volunteered to play wideout and did well.
When Chubb went down at Tennessee, after becoming a Georgia legend as a true freshman by uber-successfully replacing a suspended and then injured Todd Gurley, Sony stepped in as a feature back. He was a thousand-yard rusher in Mark Richt’s final campaign. Georgia won 10 games.
Sony selflessly became a bench player after that, focusing not simply on individual glory but instead on doing the best he could “when [he] was in there” as he said in interviews, once the light finally came on for Chaney.
Here’s where I regard him as a favorite Dawg:
T W I T T E R – @ h a n v a n c e
F a c e b o o k – Big Hairy Blawg