HOOVER, Ala. ‚Äî Fresh off its first appearance in the Southeastern Conference championship game since 2005, there should be plenty for the Georgia football team to be excited about heading into a new season.
An expected top-10 preseason ranking.
A head coach with a contract extended through 2016.
A defense with the potential to be one of the best in the nation.
All of which has been pushed to the background in recent weeks after the dismissal of star tailback Isaiah Crowell, which followed a spring that was dominated by reports of player suspensions.
‚ÄúWhen people get in trouble, trouble travels fast, especially with technology,‚Äù defensive end Abry Jones said.
Negative headlines can create perception‚Äîtrue or not‚Äîthat Georgia is recruiting kids that turn out to be trouble. Not so, coach Mark Richt said Thursday.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not recruiting bad kids,‚Äù Richt said Thursday at the start of his 12th appearance at Southeastern Conference Media Days. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre recruiting a lot of great kids. We‚Äôre competing on the same guys with just about everybody else in the conference. ‚Ä¶We certainly are going to have an expectation on how we want our guys to behave. If they don‚Äôt behave, we‚Äôre going to discipline them.‚Äù
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones doesn‚Äôt think the trickle of off-field incidents should reflect poorly on the program.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think so,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúI mean, it‚Äôs the individual that makes the mistakes, not the University of Georgia. So I mean, you‚Äôve got to look at it like that. It‚Äôs not the University of Georgia. Coach Richt ain‚Äôt in trouble. That‚Äôs what you‚Äôve got to look at.‚Äù
Said receiver Tavarres King: ‚ÄúMistakes are going to happen. We can‚Äôt let it affect our program. We‚Äôve just got to roll with the punches.‚Äù
Richt has addressed off-field issues in past years during his annual summer visit to suburban Birmingham.
It was reignited again when Crowell was swiftly booted from the team on June 29, the same day he was arrested on felony weapons charges. He was suspended for one game and part of another last season.
‚ÄúNo decision to dismiss a guy from the team is an easy decision,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs always tough because I care very much about all of these guys. Having to make those kinds of decisions are tough. In the end, I think we did what was in the best interest of the program. I wish Isaiah the very best in his future and hopefully things will work out for him.‚Äù
Jarvis Jones, who also played at Carver High School in Columbus, considered Crowell ‚Äújust like my littler brother,‚Äù and he called Georgia cutting ties with him ‚Äúdevastating for everybody because he had been working so hard, he hadn‚Äôt been getting in trouble.‚Äù
His arrest had him packing for Alabama State.
‚ÄúYou‚Äôve just got to make better decisions,‚Äù Jones said. ‚ÄúI think he will. Everybody still supports him and everybody still loves him.‚Äù
‚ÄúWe hate to see guys get in trouble, we hate to see guys leave,‚Äù Abry Jones said. ‚ÄúYou get in a college atmosphere and you have to make your own choices and when you make your mistakes, you pretty much have to pay for them.‚Äù
Despite the distractions, Jarvis Jones is upbeat as ever about what he‚Äôs seen in summer workouts.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been an unbelievable summer for us,‚Äù he said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve still got a goal in mind and we‚Äôve got to stay focused on what we have.‚Äù
To that end, Jarvis Jones said leaders like Abry Jones, Aaron Murray and King have relayed a message to the rest of the team during Thursday meetings with younger players.
‚ÄúWe just told the guys, ‚ÄòY‚Äôall know what we have here. Y‚Äôall know why we came back here. Y‚Äôall know where we‚Äôre trying to go, and y‚Äôall know we‚Äôve got one of the best staffs in the nation and we‚Äôve got the whole Bulldog Nation behind us,‚Äô‚Äù Jarvis Jones said. ‚ÄúThe more we stick together, the more things we do right, the more we make our way to where we want to go. We just have to stay focused and continue to believe in each other, stay out of trouble, we‚Äôve got to support each other. If we see somebody not doing the right thing, you‚Äôve got to correct them. You‚Äôve got to be the big brother no matter what.‚Äù
Georgia begins preseason practices in less than two weeks on Aug 2.
When the season starts on Sept. 1 against Buffalo, Georgia will be without suspended cornerback Sanders Comings, who was arrested on a domestic violence charge this winter.
He‚Äôll also miss the Missouri game the next week, but Georgia hasn‚Äôt revealed which other players may be suspended.
Cornerback Branden Smith is expected to miss at least one game after a possession of marijuana charge, and safety Bacarri Rambo was appealing a four-game suspension for his second violation of Georgia‚Äôs drug testing policy. Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree reportedly also is facing a suspension.
Georgia has a more stringent penalty structure for drug-testing violations than other schools, but Richt said he hasn‚Äôt lobbied for a uniform league policy and reiterated that ‚ÄúI do think we‚Äôre doing the right thing for Georgia.‚Äù
Richt was asked specifically about Rambo and Ogletree by a reporter who wondered ‚Äúwhy this continues to happen in your program.‚Äù
‚ÄúSome people have policies,‚Äù Richt said, ‚Äúthat bring certain things to light and some people don‚Äôt.‚Äù
Richt said that he knows Georgia‚Äôs suspension scorecard heading into the season, but isn‚Äôt telling yet.
‚ÄúDo I know?‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúI do know. Yeah. We‚Äôll share it some time but not today.