Athens – Can a team lose its leading rusher and actually become a better team?
The Georgia Bulldogs are about to find out. They granted Washaun Ealey — their starting tailback and an 800-yard rusher last season — his unconditional release on Monday.
The announcement was made in a vague, three-paragraph news release distributed by the UGA Sports Communication office Monday night. It was characterized as a mutual decision.
“Washaun and I have had several conversations in recent weeks,” head coach Mark Richt said in the release. “We both have come to the conclusion that a transfer to another institution would be in his best interest.”
Georgia officials confirmed that Ealey is academically eligible to play next season. Ealey could not be reached for comment so his next destination is unknown.
Ealey’s mother, Joanne Ealey, said she was unaware of this latest development.
“I don’t know anything about that,” she said. “I need to talk to my son.”
Ms. Ealey said her son had discussed the possibility of transferring to Georgia Southern or some other school in the past. She said she was OK with that, “as long as he’s getting an education.”
By granting Ealey his release, Ealey will be immediately eligible at a lower-division school. However, he would still have to sit out one season if he transfers to another Football Bowl Subdivision institution.
While the Bulldogs will be losing a productive back who showed flashes of brilliance, they will also be losing a disciplinary headache. Ealey was suspended at least twice in the last seven months and Richt was constantly on him to conduct himself “the Georgia Way.”
Richt hinted that relations between Ealey and the team were still strained late last month when he was asked about the him during a meeting of the Augusta Bulldog Club.
“Washaun has a ways to go still to show me that he deserves to start or even play right now,” Richt said. “He has a ways to go in my book. We’ll see.”
Ealey was suspended indefinitely from the team in February for missing an early-morning disciplinary run. He was reinstated in time for spring practice in March but was sidelined with a hamstring injury after only four practices and did not practice again. He was also suspended from last season’s opener because of an arrest for hit-and-run of a parked vehicle and driving with a suspended license. Richt was particularly upset about that incident because Ealey had assured coaches he wouldn’t drive while his license was suspended.
A rising junior from Stillmore, Ealey played in 21 games for the Bulldogs with nine starts, including seven last season. He rushed 1,528 yards and 14 touchdowns in two seasons at Georgia.
Ealey’s status as starting tailback was already in jeopardy. He was benched early last season due to fumbling issues. And the Bulldogs in February signed Isaiah Crowell, the nation’s No. 1-ranked running back prospect. They also return senior Caleb King, junior Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken “Boo” Malcome at the position.
Milan Turner, Ealey’s high school coach at Emmanuel County Institute, said he had not yet talked to Ealey but planned to sometime later Monday night.
Ealey was one of two players Georgia signed out of ECI in 2009. The other one, linebacker Dexter Moody, had his letter-of-intent revoked shortly after national signing day due to a major disciplinary infraction at the high school.