Friends and Foes

Kregg Lumpkin

ATHENS - Ever since <b>Reggie Ball</b> and <b>Kregg Lumpkin</b> were kids, Ball has been the talker and Lumpkin has been the quiet one.

"I'm laid back," said Kregg Lumpkin, Georgia's freshman running back. "He's the leader in the huddle, the joker. He always joked around in the huddle, had fun."

As they prepare to meet for the first time as opponents when the Bulldogs and Georgia Tech play Saturday at Grant Field, nothing has changed off the field. "It ain't going to mean no

thing," said Reggie Ball, the Yellow Jackets' precocious starting quarterback. "In between the lines, it's a fight. I don't care who it is. If my momma's on the field, she's going to get knocked out, too."

On the field, though, things are very different than they were when Ball and Lumpkin were teammates at Stephenson High School. Lumpkin was considered one of the nation's top running backs when he signed with the Bulldogs in February. Ball was an afterthought in a disappointing recruiting class in Atlanta.

Now, entering the 12th game of the season, Lumpkin has yet to start a game, while Ball has started 11 straight and is on his way to being named the ACC offensive rookie of the year.

"He had a chance to step up and he did," Lumpkin said, "and I'm slowly coming along."

Lumpkin was named a CNNSI/TheInsiders.com All-American after rushing for more than 3,500 yards in his final two prep seasons, and he has shown bursts of his potential. He has 57 carries for 281 yards this year, with 183 of those coming in the last three games, when he has averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

"He's going to be a superstar, man," fullback Jeremy Thomas said. "He runs like a man. The ladies love him, too, I bet."

Still, Lumpkin is feeling the effect of a slow start. He suffered a slight hamstring pull before the Bulldogs began live drills in preseason practice. Then, against the orders of team doctors, he snuck into a drill on the first day of full contact practice and pulled the hamstring severely on his first play.

The injury caused him to miss all of preseason practice and the first two games of the season. By the time he returned, the Bulldogs were already into their regular schedule, which meant only one day of full contact during the week. So, not only did Lumpkin miss all the basics, but there was very little opportunity for him to catch up when he returned.

"I think he's done well, but it's been a slow development," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "He's running with more confidence. I like how he's progressing. He's really going to be good."

But his fundamentals are still lacking. Against Kentucky last week, he failed to properly block a linebacker on a rollout by quarterback David Greene, forcing Greene to throw the ball away. It was just the kind of thing the Bulldogs coached in the fall, while Lumpkin was on the sidelines watching.

"He'd probably had no live reps of that," Richt said. "He had no experience to draw from. To expect him to do that with no live practice is tough. He's going to continue to improve as he goes on."

While Lumpkin's progress has come slowly and only in areas that coaches notice, Ball has grown up in the national spotlight. He had a superlative senior season at Stephenson, throwing for more than 2,000 yards with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions, but he was considered more athlete than quarterback, particularly at less than 6-feet tall.

"Reggie is a guy that Coach (Chan) Gailey kind of stuck his neck out for earlier in the year to make him the starter. I think everybody can see why he did that now," Richt said. "It was a great move."

Ball has been the ACC rookie of the week five times this season, but he's also failed to eclipse 120 passing yards in four games and thrown three interceptions in an embarrassing loss to Duke. Overall, he's 169 of 324 for 1,900 yards, 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Ball admitted he's surprised to be outperforming Lumpkin this early in their careers.

"I thought Kregg could go anywhere in the nation and start," he said. "He's one of the best running backs in my eyes, in the nation, but, you know, things have a funny way of working out. I don't think I'm having too much more than his success because he has more wins on the board."

Lumpkin said he doesn't resent his friend's rapid rise.

"I'm glad for him," he said. "He's doing real, real good."

Lumpkin and Ball haven't spoken face-to-face since Nov. 7, when they both attended a Stephenson game. Lumpkin said he planned to call Ball on Tuesday evening, but Ball didn't sound receptive to that.

"I won't talk to him, T.J. (Gartrell) or any of my other teammates on the UGA team this week," he said. "It's just better because there's going to be some trash talking if we do. They know how I feel, I wish the best of luck to them and everything, wish them the best, no serious injuries, but at the same time, I want to get the win, too."

Up until their junior year, Lumpkin, Ball and Gartrell, a wide receiver who is redshirting this season at Georgia, talked about signing with the same school.

"We were thinking about it, but we never decided on what school would be best for us," Lumpkin said. "There's no regret because we're both making a new life in college now."

When it came clear that Lumpkin and Ball were headed for such heated rivals, the subject of Saturday's game was discussed.

"We were talking about who was going to win this game," Lumpkin said. "I guess we'll see."

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