Still, the freshman running back is learning a few of the lessons most teenagers learn their first year away at college, only he’s learning them on a much bigger stage.
“It’s been a big old learning experience for me playing in the SEC, learning that it’s different from high school,” Samuel said. “So I’ve got to change my running game, get used to the speed of things and playing against different people.
The biggest lesson Samuel said he must learn, however, is patience.
After starting the season as Georgia’s No. 2 tailback, Samuel has seen his role diminish in recent weeks, while his time in the film room has increased. The lack of playing time has bothered him, and he is anxious to get back on the field, but the time off has helped to underscore what has been missing from his game.
“Basically I have to change my approach and preparation – the way I play, and the way I get ready for the game,” said Samuel, who has 86 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown so far this season. “I’m used to trying to go fast, hit everything fast, and now I realize I have to take my time and slow down, see things and wait until things open up.”
That lesson holds true both on and off the field.
After seeing significant playing time in Georgia’s first two games of the season, Samuel’s inexperience cost the Bulldogs a potential touchdown against South Carolina in the team’s SEC opener. Samuel caught a pass from Matthew Stafford deep in Gamecocks’ territory and looked poised to score in a close game, but he failed to hit his running lane properly, and the hole disappeared.
That was a turning point for Samuel – the moment he realized he wasn’t in high school anymore and life in the SEC was much different.
“It’s a little difficult,” Samuel said. “I just want to be high-tempo, so to slow it down and be under control can be a little difficult, but it’s something I need to do to become a better running back.”
For the past two games, Samuel’s improvement has been limited to the practice field and special teams. He hasn’t played a down on offense since his failures against South Carolina.
Changing his approach to running the football hasn’t been easy for Samuel, but not being able to run the football on game day has been an even greater challenge.
“It’s been difficult for me not to get out there,” Samuel said. “I’m anxious to get out there. I really want to play. I want to contribute to a win. But also standing back there on the sideline allows me to see how it’s done from other people who have been here longer.”
Those people include starter Knowshon Moreno and the new No. 2 tailback, Caleb King.
Unlike Samuel, both Moreno and King redshirted their freshman seasons, and personal experience has taught them the value of waiting and watching.
“It’s good to watch, and when your time comes, apply those things that you saw and that you learned from the coaches,” Moreno said.
Moreno said Samuel has practiced just has hard and looked just as sharp since the South Carolina game, despite the lack of playing time. Of course, it’s also Moreno who has contributed to keeping Samuel from applying those lessons the past few weeks.
Running backs coach Tony Ball said there was no decision made to bench Samuel against Arizona State and Alabama, but the freshman was simply a victim of the numbers game that favored Georgia’s star tailback.
“It’s not something that’s done consciously, but that’s just the way it is,” Ball said of Samuel’s time on the sideline. “But the last couple of weeks, there has not been the thought to let him sit back and really absorb it because he’s got it. And the only way he’s going to get better now is through repetition and gaining experience.”
Ball’s confidence in Samuel is a result of the maturity the freshman has shown in his short time at Georgia, but the task that lies ahead is still an immense one, Samuel said.
“I’m trying to work on bits and pieces of everything at one time, but it’s a lot to work on, a lot to change, a lot to get better,” he said. “Sitting on the sideline is helping me learn, but I’m antsy to get out there and try some things.”
That excitement is what drives Samuel, but it’s also part of what has limited him so far this season. His biggest obstacle, he said, is learning how to balance tempo and patience.
From his perch on the sideline, however, he has two teammates who teach that lesson pretty well. So when Samuel’s time does come – and Ball said he should see the field more this week against Tennessee – he’ll be ready.
“Seeing the stuff (Moreno and King) have been through and how they’re producing on the field,” Samuel said, “it’s motivation to know that if I just take my time and learn, I’ll have my time come.”