Chris White: Tailbacks present troubling trend at Georgia

Does anybody want to carry a football around here lately?

Washaun Ealey didn’t care to do it.

It must not have been terribly important to Caleb King, either.

Carlton Thomas turned down the opportunity.

Ken Malcome briefly opted out, changing his mind a day later.

And early Friday morning, it was Isaiah Crowell’s turn to fumble away an opportunity of a lifetime.

The rising sophomore’s arrest on a pair of felony weapons charges and an accompanying misdemeanor show that maybe being a running back in the Southeastern Conference isn’t such a glamorous, coveted position after all. And that’s to say nothing of the path to the NFL that job can lead to if one can just keep his nose clean for a few years.

Instead, Crowell found himself in jail Friday morning and without a football team by the evening, when Georgia coach Mark Richt announced in a three-paragraph news release the tailback had been dismissed from the team.

You could say there’s a discipline problem at Georgia, that things are too lax. But there’s also the argument that maybe things are strict and that’s exactly the reason so many of these guys are, at best, suspended and, at worst, unceremoniously cut from the program.

Fortunately we won’t have to have that debate, because the Athens-Clarke County Police Department is impartial to the athletic department’s policies.

It’s hard to find fault with Georgia because Crowell’s alleged actions — he is charged with felony counts of possession of a weapon in a school zone and possession of a firearm with an altered identification and faces a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed firearm — led to the toughest penalty the athletic department could hand down. What else could Richt do? Ask for all that tuition money back?

Short of building a time machine for the coach to go back and warn himself about his recruits or restructuring college football so that coaches’ salaries are based on graduation rates and not victories, Richt has done about the most you could ask from a man charged with overseeing a small army of college-age men, a demographic not known for its decision-making skills.

No, this isn’t a discipline problem. It’s a running back problem because nowhere else do the Bulldogs seem to be hit so hard and so consistently.

Richt and his staff are adept at sniffing out talented ball carriers. They just haven’t had luck finding many who can keep things on the straight and narrow long enough to live up to the potential.

Ealey, now at Jacksonville State, was suspended several times through his two season and was ultimately granted an unconditional release in May 2011 in an example of both sides cutting their losses.

King had an entirely different set of issues, including his arrest for failing to appear in court over a traffic ticket, and academic ineligibility ended his college career last July shortly before the start of his senior campaign.

Thomas, who along with Crowell was suspended for the New Mexico State game for reportedly failing a drug test, saw something he didn’t like in his future at Georgia and announced in March his plans to transfer, citing his wish to make more of an impact somewhere else.

Now Crowell, who made it through a freshman year defined by of on-again, off-again love from fans and a two suspensions — one for a full game, another for a quarter — has been undone in the summer, when it seems easiest to avoid drawing this kind of attention. And all because police found a Luger 9mm pistol with the serial number scratched off under the driver’s seat of his car.

I’d like to continue envisioning Crowell as the jubilant, well-meaning kid I covered in high school, and maybe that is still part of him. But even if the gun is not his, as he reportedly contended to the arresting officer, it still means he’s making some strange choices — choices that show he’s not interested in what was his job, in his free education and in his own future.

No one likely will never know what stirred Crowell or any of the departed tailbacks to make those choices or what personal demons led them there, but it’s a measure of the reverence each held for the opportunity at Georgia.

Now Georgia’s running game will rest on a strange mix of experience and background. Richard Samuel is the lone veteran. Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis, with one start between them, will never have a better chance to prove themselves.

And incoming freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley are heirs apparent if Georgia hopes to build some long-term stability again.

But don’t you four feel too much pressure. Just remember the tailbacks who, despite all their promise, found a way to redefine success.

You no longer have to be the next Herschel Walker. You just have to make it through college.

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@ScottyRay79 Thanks. Should be plenty of chances for him Saturday.

2 hours ago