(Updated 4 p.m.)
ATHENS — Caleb King, Georgia’s starting tailback in both of its victories this season, won’t play in the next two games because of his arrest for failure to appear in court to address a speeding ticket.
Coach Mark Richt on Tuesday suspended King for the two games, saying he hopes the punishment teaches a lesson to the tailback and other players.
In years past, a case such as King’s might have drawn a shorter suspension, if any at all. But with King the 11th UGA football player arrested this year, Richt acknowledged the two-game ban reflects a tougher approach to punishing players for off-field incidents.
“Oh yeah, no doubt about it,” Richt said. “But they knew that.”
King won’t play in Saturday’s home game against Vanderbilt or the Oct. 23 game at Kentucky. He’ll return for the Oct. 30 game against Florida in Jacksonville.
The 11 Georgia players arrested this year, on charges ranging from battery to public intoxication, have drawn varying penalties from Richt. Four of the players were dismissed from the team. Another decided to transfer after being suspended for six games. Three others got one-game suspensions.
The latest suspension came one day after King was arrested by Athens-Clarke County Police on a bench warrant issued by a judge in nearby Walton County. The warrant was for failing to appear at an August court date regarding a June speeding ticket, which cited King for traveling 76 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone on Highway 78.
“I expect all our players to take care of their responsibilities on and off the field,” Richt said. “When players don’t do that, it damages the reputation of the player, our team and our university. My goal is for Caleb to learn a lesson and for other players to learn from his experience.”
King’s penalty was double that drawn by fellow tailback Washaun Ealey, who was suspended for one game –- the season-opening victory over Louisiana-Lafayette –- after his late-August arrest for hit-and-run of a parked vehicle and driving with a suspended license. At the time of Ealey’s arrest, there also was a bench warrant against him for failure to appear in court on speeding and vehicle registration charges.
Asked if King’s stiffer penalty reflects a tougher standard, Richt said: “Yes sir.” Asked if it reflects a need to send a message, Richt said: “Obviously.”
Although Richt emphasized that each player “has a responsibility to do the right thing,” the coach said he and athletic director Greg McGarity are having “an ongoing conversation” about ways to reduce the off-field problems. “I really have a lot of confidence that [McGarity] has some good ideas in that regard,” Richt said.
Already, Richt said, his staff is periodically checking to make sure players’ driver’s licenses are in good standing. “We’ve been doing that monthly,” he said, “but now we are going to do it weekly.”
Richt said, however, that it would be almost impossible for the staff to know when a bench warrant is issued for a player’s failure to handle a traffic ticket, as in the King case. “You basically would have to get in contact with every single county in the state of Georgia on a daily basis to find out if something like that popped up,” Richt said.
Several players said the team is well aware that off-field problems will have serious consequences.
“Enough has happened that I think the team is tired of it, the coaching staff is tired of it and the athletic director and everyone associated with the University of Georgia is [too],” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We definitely have seen a little too much of everything that is going on. We’ve just got to be smart as a team … on and off the field.”
Said wide receiver Tavarres King: “Everybody knows at this point in time, if you get in trouble, you’re going to get a pretty good lashing.”