It would have been so easy for Todd Gurley to walk away.
With his suspension taking four games away from him and there not being any guarantee Georgia would be crowned SEC East champs or make the College Football Playoff, ending his Bulldogs career and getting a head start on his NFL training would have been a very viable option. In fact, he probably wouldn't have received a ton of backlash because he's putting millions on the line by stepping back on the college field for the Bulldogs.
But Gurley didn't want to go out like that. After putting himself before his team and taking $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over the course of two years, Gurley is now putting his team ahead of his own eventual personal gain in an honorable move to play out his junior season.
“It shows what kind of team guy he is," quarterback Hutson Mason said. "A lot of people think of really good players like that as guys who are egotistical and think of themselves. It shows that Todd really has that family-oriented mindset and that he wants to do what’s best for this team.
“No matter what people were telling him, it showed that Todd had something in his heart where he cares about others and cares about these guys and he cares about finishing off right.”
Gurley certainly wasn't the same team guy when he broke NCAA rules and accepted money for his likeness, but he's served his time away from the field and he's coming back. It's a more respectable exit for a player who has meant so much to his university in the last three years.
But is it risky? You bet.
It's obvious this is Gurley's last year on campus. He's arguably the nation's best running back and, despite missing four games, could still rush for more than 1,000 yards after accumulating 773 before his suspension with a ridiculous 8.2 yards per carry.
For his career, Gurley has 3,147 rushing yards, 35 rushing touchdowns, 17 100-yard rushing games and a career average of 6.5 yards per carry. He's too good and too accomplished not to head to the NFL early, but his return this season comes with caution, especially if there's nothing really to play for after this weekend's bout with Auburn.
We've seen players return to college after more than proving their NFL worth and suffering physical or statistical setbacks. The recent news of former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore's sudden and unfortunate retirement from football before even playing an NFL down had to have spooked Gurley, who is risking millions by playing out his Georgia career.
Lattimore was arguably the nation's best running back while he was at South Carolina but suffered two devastating knee injuries that his body never fully recovered from. Freak accidents and injuries happen all the time, but it only takes one.
Still, it sounds like Gurley never considered taking the easy way out.
“It may have crossed his mind, but he didn’t act like it was crossing his mind," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He wanted to be with his teammates from the very beginning.”
And after previously putting his team second, Gurley should be commended for playing instead of souring his squad's season and his own legacy. Georgia can still win the SEC East, and the Dawgs have an outside shot at the playoff. Having Gurley with them makes them legitimate contenders for both, again.
"I think he’s a guy that is a very good teammate who made a mistake," Richt said. "He cares about his teammates, he cares about his team and he loves playing football for the University of Georgia.
“And he can’t wait to do it again.”