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Southerland completes comeback from two surgeries

ATHENS - This was supposed to be Brannan Southerland's big year.

Southerland was supposed to be the starting fullback who cleared running lanes for Knowshon Moreno and helped give Matthew Stafford time to pass. The goal-line threat was supposed to have chances to add to his career total of 21 touchdowns.

Even a broken bone in his foot, first diagnosed late in the 2007 season, was not expected to interfere with Southerland's senior plans. There was plenty of time to have the surgery and be ready for 2008.

Then, just as Southerland was about to receive medical clearance in June, a CT scan delivered the crushing news. Doctors found another break in the same bone.

A second surgery was needed. Almost half of his final season would be lost.

Coach Mark Richt said Southerland 'went in the tank' after hearing the report.

Said Southerland: 'There was a good week and a half there where I was pretty down.'

Southerland, who started seven or more games each of his first three seasons, returned to his home in Dacula 'and stayed with my mom for a little bit.'

The quiet time provided opportunity to deal with the bitter news.

'It was then I kind of realized this is going to affect the first half of the season,' he said.

Richt said Southerland soon recovered his spirit.

'Within a couple of days he was like 'This could happen to anybody,' Richt said. 'This is where I'm at. This is part of life. It doesn't always go the way you want it to go. I'm going to come back from it.'

The comeback took about as long as expected. Southerland missed four games and returned to play only on special teams against Alabama two weeks ago. He finally will be back on offense when No. 10 Georgia plays Tennessee on Saturday.

Southerland, elected a team captain, is expected to return as a starter.

'It's been a very, very difficult road,' he said.

'It's my last year. I'm not eligible for a medical redshirt. This is it. I had to work to get back and get in as much of the season as I could.'

The 6-foot, 240-pound Southerland, named by The Birmingham News as the SEC's best blocking back, had 10 touchdowns in 2006 to become the first fullback to lead the team in scoring in 49 years.