He had already completed his morning workout before Isaiah Crowell arrived at the office in a gleaming high-rise in Midtown, where he would be meeting with his agents and a public relations specialist.
The agenda: preparing a gifted but star-crossed running back for next month’s NFL draft. They discussed what teams might be interested in taking him, how his apartment living arrangements suit him, even whether he might consider cutting his dreadlocks, better to portray the maturing father that he believes himself to be.
Crowell replied Julio Jones had dreads when the Falcons made him a first-round pick three years ago. The hair stays. Next topic.
This is not the way his story began. Crowell’s path to the NFL was inextricably altered by his arrest and subsequent dismissal from the Georgia football team on June 29, 2012. His handlers’ task is to separate the kid banished from Athens from the young man who says he has learned his lesson.
“I actually think about it every day,” Crowell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in his first extensive interview since his dismissal from UGA. “If I knew what I know now, I would have done a lot of things differently. But I don’t regret it. It helped me mature. I’m wiser now.”
Now 21, Crowell said the birth of Jayden Crowell helped him to reassess his priorities. His son, who he is co-parenting with former girlfriend Rashaada Rogers, is a 1-year-old. His arrival informed Crowell’s decision to leave Alabama State for the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.
“Now he’s in daycare and we have to pay for that,” Crowell said.
The NFL is keenly interested. Crowell interviewed with several NFL teams at the scouting combine in January. He took part in Alabama State’s Pro Day drills and has since gone on a few private workouts. But conversations always seem to circle back to his downfall.
“All of the teams want to know about the past situation at Georgia,” Crowell said. “I just told them that it was a mistake. It was a childish mistake. … I want to put it all behind me.”
Crowell had already been suspended twice even as he was earning the 2011 SEC freshman of the year award when he agreed to be the designated driver for four teammates who’d be out drinking that early June morning two years ago. The car was stopped at a road block on East Campus Road at Green Street at 2:20 a.m.
According to the police report, the officer smelled the odor of marijuana and received permission to search the car. He found a 9-mm Luger handgun with an altered serial number under the driver’s seat. Crowell was arrested on charges of possessing a concealed weapon, having a weapon in a school zone and having an altered ID mark on the weapon.
“I’d loaned my car to different people,” Crowell said. “Cousins, brothers and a lot of my friends and stuff back home. When they searched the car and found it, I was really shocked.”
The charges were dismissed 10 months later after the state determined that it couldn’t prove “knowing possession beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to the dismissal prior to indictment order. But by that time, Crowell, the nation’s No. 1 recruit from Carver (Columbus) High School, was long gone.
“With Isaiah, part of his deal was that there was so much stuff going on, I really felt like it was going to be better for him and for us for him to get a fresh start,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I hate it when those things happen. But sometimes you have to make a decision that you think is in the best interest of the program and the kid.”
Crowell vividly remembers the final meeting with Richt.
“It was real tough because being at Georgia was always my dream,” Crowell said. “I had (played) so good my first season and was getting ready for my second season. I was just really establishing my goals and what I wanted to accomplish the next season and then the (arrest) happened. … But I just had to deal with the consequences and move on.”
Off the field, Crowell was suffering. A close nephew who had been raised in his household died from sickle cell anemia four months earlier. A close friend from high school also died in a car accident.
“I don’t know if I was confused because I didn’t know how to deal with death,” Crowell said. “I never even thought about something like that happening. I know that it hurt me a lot.”
Describing himself laid back, Crowell’s fuse became shorter and he was prone to volatile mood swings.
“Normally, it takes a lot of me to get mad, but back then, I was getting mad pretty fast, just about anything,” he said.
Richt and running backs coach Bryan McClendon continued to mentor him after he’d left school.
“He did have a lot of stuff going on,” Richt said. “He had a family member pass. He was like a brother to him. … It’s hard to manage it all.”
Football remained his obvious destination but where? Transferring to a FCS school would allow him to play immediately instead of sitting out a season as a FBS transfer, which led to Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow’s contacting Crowell’s old high school coach, Dell McGee, and the player’s parents, Debbie and Andrew Crowell.
But before going any further, Barlow sat down with Crowell and his parents “to make sure that we were all on the same page,” Barlow said. “He really wanted to get a second chance. We gave him a clean slate and a chance to move on.”
Wearing the same No. 1 that he did at UGA, Crowell made the all-Southwestern Conference team two seasons running, rushing for 1,121 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall as the Hornets finished 7-4.
He also tried to blend into campus life at Alabama State, a historically black university in Montgomery. After the run-in with law enforcement in Athens, Crowell said he kept a low profile, spending downtime with sports video games.
“I was really trying to watch what I was doing,” Crowell said. “I really didn’t like to party and stuff like that, but I had a good time at Alabama State.”
A criminal justice major and business minor, he has 18 college credit hours left to complete for his degree.
“He’s a respectful kid as far as saying, ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir,’’’ Barlow said. “He did mature while he was here.”
Crowell, who’s bulked up to 224 pounds from the 210 when he was at Georgia, is considered the 15th-rated running back in the draft and is projected to go in the fifth or sixth round by nfldraftscout.com.
“He’s a sharp kid, a good kid,” said Ken Herock, former Falcons general manager who helped prepare Crowell for his combine interviews. “He had an issue when he was a young kid at Georgia. It’s been resolved and he’s never been in trouble since. He was a quality kid at Alabama State when he played down there. He’s really a top notch prospect.”
Chicago and Indianapolis have been in contact the most during the pre-draft period, though Crowell acknowledges he will enter the league far down the depth chart.
“I don’t mind because I know that I have a lot to learn,” he said.
Through the ups and downs, Crowell still has retained respect and support in his hometown.
“Once all of this stuff happened to him, he kind of evolved. He took the blame,” said Daryll Jones, a Columbus radio and television sportscaster. “He didn’t blame anybody. It could have been easy for him to say, ‘Hey look, too much was on me too soon,’ or ‘I got a raw deal at Georgia.’ He took full responsibility.”
Crowell made an impression at the combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds and lifted 225 pounds 23 times, fourth-best total of the running backs. Two years removed from dark days at Georgia, he sees a bright future for himself.
“I feel like I’m going to be legendary,” Crowell said. “When everybody thinks about running backs, I want to be thought of as one of the best running backs who played in the NFL. I want my name to be mentioned.”