Todd Gurley is one of the NFL's brightest young stars. The 21-year-old Los Angeles Rams running back enjoyed a sensational rookie season in 2015, amassing over 1,100 yards rushing in just 13 games while earning a Second-Team All-Pro selection and AP Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
In doing so, the Baltimore native set an NFL record by running for 566 yards in his first four career starts. The Huffington Post caught up with Gurley, the 10th pick in last year's draft, to discuss the Rams' move to L.A., why player safety isn't so simple and how he grew to appreciate Kobe Bryant.
Please note that this interview was conducted before the NFL Draft, and before the Rams selected Jared Goff first overall.
You are working on a meaningful project with Kelley Blue Book to inspire safe driving for youth. Did you have a friend or family member that was in a bad car crash?
Oh yeah for sure. In high school, one of my close friends [fell asleep at the wheel] and passed away in a car accident driving back on the way home. I have another friend who’s in college now, a couple of weeks ago the same kind of incident happened. Going home, driving, falls asleep, and he got thrown out of the car. I feel like it’s definitely an important issue to speak on, that it can happen to anyone. Because it can.
You sustained a serious knee injury in college. Did that affect the way you look at something like this, in terms of how quickly the routine can be taken away?
Oh yeah most definitely. Like you said, growing up everyone thinks that they’re Superman, and the next thing you know, the next day I can’t even lift my knee up. It definitely put life in perspective and makes you appreciate things a lot more.
What has been the best, most enduring piece of advice that you’ve received since you were drafted?
I’d say the main thing that older players and coaches tell you is "do what got you here," and just keep working hard. Surround yourself with good people.
What has been the preparation for you this summer, as compared to last year when you were getting ready to be drafted and were still dealing with the injury?
Yeah, it’s funny, Case [Keenum], our quarterback, was just saying "Man, you’re a lot further along than you were last year at this time." Last year I was doing all that rehab, misdirection stuff. So I’ve had a chance to have a real offseason, rest my body, and now I’m back moving around and doing a lot more stuff than I was able to do last year because of my knee injury.
Despite the injury and despite missing the first four games, you enjoyed tremendous success. What is the next step for your progression as a dominant player in this league?
My biggest thing I say is: I play running back, that’s what I do is run the ball. So I can definitely get better at a lot of things, especially without me having the ball, whether it’s play-faking or pass protecting, getting out on my routes faster, getting out of the backfield -- anything without the ball.
Three rookies earned Pro Bowl nods -- one of them was Marcus Peters, then you were the other along with Tyler Lockett in Seattle. It's rare to find success so early. We as fans hear the same thing all the time: the speed of the game is dramatically different. Holes simply are not there. How is that the case?
Oh it definitely changed tremendously. Like you said, the holes are there but they’re only there for a quick second. I tell everybody else that it’s the best of the best.
Are the hits different then as well?
They’re different, but you kind of get used to getting hit being a running back.
The franchise has moved to L.A. What are some of the earliest differences you’ve noticed in L.A.? Like, are you seeing Rams gear already?
A couple of places, yeah. I don’t think they’re everywhere yet, but we’ll get them there.
Will you miss St. Louis?
I don’t know, man. I chilled there, I liked St. Louis but there’s not much to do. The fans and the people were good.
How is your comfort level in terms of understanding the offense?
I’m more of a guy I have to get my reps. I can get it from the book, but once you get in the game and stuff is coming full speed, a lot of things change. I’m more of a guy who has to practice and actually visualize it, and be in there and get those reps.
How did it put the game in perspective when you were not able to play?
In the NFL you definitely appreciate the game a lot more. You definitely want to play every play like it’s your last, especially when you’ve been through that situation before and you already know it. When you’re running that ball you want to make sure you run it hard to protect yourself. It’s football, injuries happen and I don’t even think about injuries when I’m playing, because you know that’s just a part of the game.
With the emphasis that the league has put on player safety, how have you noticed defensive players attempting to alter their style?
I don’t know. I think it’s very hard, especially when you have defensive guys going full speed. Then the quarterback throws the ball, and the league expects the guys to just stop on a dime. It’s not that simple. You don’t want to keep the defensive players from being aggressive. Yeah, there are some guys that hold back on it, but at the end of the day it’s football.
Now that you're in L.A., have you watched Kobe at all?
I did grow up a hoops fan. It’s funny, and people are probably going to hate me, but for a while I didn’t actually like Kobe at first because he was so good. Eventually I was like "Man this dude is good," so I didn’t have any choice but to like him. I’m a big Carmelo fan and a Duke fan, so I grew up watching those guys.
You said Duke? You know, Kobe said if he didn’t go to the NBA he was going to Duke.
Exactly. Who wouldn’t play for the best coach in Coach K?
What is the one individual goal you want to accomplish?
I try not to get too caught up in the goals, but of course everybody wants to be the leading rusher. So that’s definitely a goal of mine.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Email me at jordan.schultz@huffingtonpo