Mark Richt’s Bulldogs entered the spring appearing to have many things breaking their way for the coming season, what with a favorable schedule and a bunch of starters returning, especially on defense. And yet some of those veteran players seem determined to take hold of opportunity with both hands … and chuck it out the window.
While Richt declined Thursday to confirm what’s up with Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree, there’ve been widespread reports that the two players will be suspended several games for “violations of team rules,” which is pretty well understood now to be official code for having failed a drug test.
(If there are any other kinds of rules being violated by UGA players, perhaps Richt and company should come up with new terminology since everyone’s going to think “failed drug test” from now on when they hear that phrase.)
Rambo previously was suspended for a game last season for a similar violation, which as a second-timer puts him in line for an extended suspension this time under UGA’s rules, the toughest in the conference. Georgia holds players out for a tenth of a season (at least one game) for one failed drug test and suspends second-time offenders like Rambo for 30 percent of a season (four games). At most SEC schools, a first-time failed drug test draws no suspension at all.
Whether schools should even be testing the use of a substance that isn’t performance-enhancing is a debate for another day; suffice it to say, it’s against the rules and the players know they’re subject to random testing, so it’s difficult to work up much sympathy for them.
Rambo’s high school coach has tried his best to engender some, though, with a sad tale about how the player accidentally got high by unknowingly eating brownies that had been laced with pot while on spring break. Last time, it supposedly was a case of Rambo just being caught with a girl in his car who had a joint in her purse, according to the coach.
OK, maybe Rambo is that unlucky or naive about what sort of folks he chooses to hang out with. Or perhaps the coach and player are being just a bit disingenuous.
I know one thing: That high school coach attempting to shift the blame to UGA for “stupid timing” in testing kids right after they came back from spring break makes me wonder about the mentoring Rambo received before he got to Athens. UGA’s athletes were all gathered together before spring break and warned not to get in trouble; drug tests right after they returned from break shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone.
Anyway, Rambo’s coach says he’s down to miss four games, though he’s appealing that and if the appeal fails he might consider entering the NFL supplemental draft. And Ogletree reportedly will miss two to four games (we still don’t know for sure). All that on top of two starters in the defensive secondary already being suspended for the first game or two.
Predictably, some folks’ reaction has been to attack Richt for his lack of discipline, which boggles the mind when you consider that, as noted earlier, UGA has the toughest policy on such infractions.
I’m not sure what these folks think the head coach can do to keep his players from knowingly violating rules short of following them around 24 hours a day. Yeah, I know, if only Richt were meaner so the players were scared of him, like Nick Saban, or so the reasoning goes. Of course, Alabama players get suspended for rules violations, too, so the rule of the iron fist appears to have limits in how effective it is.
Then we’ve got the folks who are making lists of all the off-field problems that have cropped up in recent years. I saw one that even included the recent DUI for Orson Charles, who isn’t even in the program any more. Heck, why not throw in UGA alum Hines Ward’s DUI while you’re at it?
Others have gone so far as to count up how many players have left the program for various reasons over the past couple of years, connecting dots that aren’t even on the same page by noting all the Georgia signees who theoretically could have been eligible for the first couple of games this season if they were still at the school.
OK, I’ll concede that, in addition to players missing games because of suspensions, there’ve been several players kicked off the team for various reasons. Some of us consider that a sign that Richt is a good disciplinarian, but I suppose you can argue that one either way.
Still, I fail to see the point of including in the discussion players no longer at UGA because they transferred for lack of playing time or had to take a medical disqualification or failed to qualify academically.
Unless, that is, you’re just looking to pad the numbers so it makes it look worse for Richt.
Then there are the folks who cite the suspensions and departures from the program as an indication Richt just isn’t recruiting the right kind of players to begin with.
Maybe he should forget about all those 5-star and 4-star ratings and sign only Eagle Scouts and winners of DAR good citizen awards. Of course, then fans and sportswriters alike would be howling because he wasn’t drawing top talent to Athens!
As for the practical considerations of the latest development, at linebacker Todd Grantham no doubt will rely on the same players who filled in last year when Ogletree missed half the season with an injured foot, with Christian Robinson and Amarlo Herrera both having plenty of game experience. At free safety, next in line after Rambo is Corey Moore, who saw limited playing time last year as a freshman.
All are adequate replacements, though they’re certainly not the sort of impact players Ogletree and Rambo have been in the past and were expected to be again.
More than that, though, what’s disturbing about this trend is what it says about the UGA players’ dedication to their teammates. Blaming the coaches is bunk; it’s the players who are letting down the side. Sure, they’re just college kids, but they’re also scholarship athletes at a marquee program and they willingly signed up for this time in the spotlight. They all know what the rules are. They also know what’s within their grasp this season if they perform up to expectations.
And yet they’re acting as if championships can be won while still playing the fool. Rarely is that the case.
When he was preparing to return from his one-game suspension last year, Rambo declared, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win, and I know I’ve got it in me.”
It hasn’t quite turned out that way.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg