“My freshman year, fumbled the ball, 12-yard line, never played again in the game,” Georgia’s junior tailback said when asked what comes to mind as the No. 3 Bulldogs prepare to play at South Carolina on Saturday.
Not many people remember Browning’s fumble because it was followed later in that game by David Pollack’s strip-and-interception of Corey Jenkins and a 13-7 Bulldog win. But it’s tough for Brown to forget since it came on the first attempt of his collegiate career.
“I remember taking my first step and looking right at (All-SEC noseguard Langston Moore),” Browning said. “It spooked me. I never really had control of the ball. Then on top of all of that, (Moore) cussed me out.”
“It may mean something to him to go back there and do well,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
The Browning who will return to Columbia for Saturday’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff is a much different player and person from the one who left. Since that time, he has missed games of the 2003 season due to a suspension, considered quitting the team more than once and, finally, decided he had to stifle his selfishness for the good of the team. “Tyson has really come a long way. He’s matured quite a bit,” Richt said. “He had trouble conforming to doing things the way we ask them to do it. Some guys fight it longer than others. Tyson seemed to fight it. Now he’s gotten in line and he seems to be enjoying it better.”
Browning has had several missteps along the way. First, he failed to make a qualifying test score and had to spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy. He compounded that by telling a reporter from his local paper that he had made a qualifying score only to have to fess up later.
He played immediately once he got to Georgia, gaining 108 yards on the 28 carries that followed his fumble in Columbia. Then he joined in on the Bulldogs’ lawless summer of 2003 and was suspended for the first three games of last year for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He rebounded from that to rushed for 286 yards on 78 carries.
Still, he didn’t feel like a part of the team.
“I was really questioning if this was the place for me to be,” he said.
Browning considered transferring throughout last year and only after the season concluded did he decide to stay and pour his heart into the program, he said.
“I did a lot of things on my own. I still wanted to do what Tyson Browning wanted to do,” he said. “I came to learn that the only way to be a part of this team was to do it their way. It helped me not only be a better person for myself but be a better team player.”
This preseason, Browning compared himself to UGA senior linebacker Arnold Harrison, who had a handful of setbacks before becoming one of the team’s key players and leaders.
“I talk to Tyson all the time,” Harrison said. “He’s turned into a great player. I’m real proud of the way he’s come on.”
The change has been dramatic.
“There’s a switch,” quarterback David Greene said, “and when it comes time for football, you have to turn that switch on and be ready to work. He’s found that switch.”
Tyson Browning opened his recommitted season with a bang, returning a Georgia Southern punt 72 yards for a touchdown. This week, having recovered from a minor knee injury, he’ll rejoin the tailback rotation and share second-team snaps with true freshman Thomas Brown.
There was a time that would have bothered Browning to the point of the distraction. But those days, like that bobble in Columbia, are in the past.
“The athlete and competitor I am, I always want to play, if that’s as aback on third down or every down, OK,” he said. “I accept my role. If that’s as a third-down back, that’s what I’ll do.”