Updated throughout . . .
ATHENS – Three Georgia tailbacks – including star freshman Isaiah Crowell – have been suspended for Saturday’s New Mexico State game for failing UGA-administered drug tests last week, two sources familiar with the process and the decision confirmed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Crowell, junior Carlton Thomas and redshirt freshman Ken Malcome will have to sit out 10 percent of the Bulldogs’ competition dates, as is UGA Athletic Association policy for a first-time violation of the student-athlete drug policy. The tests, which revealed marijuana use, were administered last week and the results were confirmed via private lab on Tuesday, the sources said.
Georgia coach Mark Richt would not confirm the reasons for the suspensions beyond his statement that it was for “violation of team policies.”
“We have certain standards in all that we do and their actions do not reflect the Georgia way,” Richt said in a statement released by UGA Sports Communications on Tuesday afternoon. “They will serve their suspensions, learn a lesson and I’m sure will be better men for it.”
Richt failed to mention the suspensions during his half-hour weekly news conference two hours before the news release was sent. He was asked about both Crowell and Malcome during that session with the media. Richt declined subsequent interview requests through UGA spokesperson Claude Felton. None of the players involved were made available.
Meanwhile, No. 2 tailback Richard Samuel underwent season-ending ankle surgery on Tuesday morning, meaning the Bulldogs (6-2) will be down to their fifth-string ball carrier when they play the Aggies (3-5) this weekend at Sanford Stadium.
Sophomore Brandon Harton, junior Wes Van Dyk and freshman Kyle Karempelis as the only true tailbacks available to play Saturday. Harton (5-foot-6, 174 pounds) and Van Dyk (6-0, 203) are both former walkons who were awarded scholarships this past summer. Karempelis (5-9, 180) is a first-year walkon out of The Wesleyan School in Norcross. Only Harton, with 11 carries for 33 yards, and Van Dyk, with one for one yard, have played in a game this season.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo indicated after practice Tuesday night that Harton and Karempelis would be the Bulldogs’ first two options. Georgia could also utilize fullback Zander Ogletree in the running game.
“I think it’s an opportunity for a lot of guys to step up,” Bobo said. “We may have to change some things up and do some things different to move the ball. Other guys have to step up and make plays. I feel confident in those two guys and Ogletree and the backs and tight ends and receivers we have to move the ball.”
The Bulldogs could also give offensive snaps to defensive backs Brandon Boykin and/or Branden Smith, both of whom have played often on offense this season. And Bobo also dropped the names of two freshmen: Safety Nick Marshall and cornerback Damian Swann.
“There’s a lot of guys out there could be possibilities,” Bobo said.
It is the second suspension of the season for Crowell, who missed the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game for an academic-related issue. Thomas also missed the season opener due to a suspension for another undisclosed violation of team rules.
Crowell’s coach at Carver-Columbus High School, Dell McGee, traded text messages with him on Tuesday.
“I just reminded him of where he came from and not to take things for granted because they can be taken away from you,” McGee said.
Crowell was rated the No. 1 running back prospect in country when he signed with Georgia last February. He currently leads the Bulldogs with 689 yards rushing and 4 touchdowns.
Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity insisted that the suspensions were not delayed discipline disciplinary actions from the week of the Florida game.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “We don’t pick when we do certain things. When certain things are found, we act right then.”
According to UGA Athletic Association student-athlete handbook, a one-game suspension can be the result of violations of three different policies: Drugs, alcohol or academics. But a violation of any policy cannot be enforced at a coach’s discretion.
“At the point a violation is discovered, if a suspension is required the penalty is enforced for the next competition,” Georgia senior Felton said. “Whatever the infraction was, it would have occurred this week.”
Georgia athletes are subject to preseason drug tests in every sport, random drug tests by the NCAA and periodic/non-random tests by the athletic association. In most cases it takes five to seven days for a lab to analyze the results.
– Chip Towers