Georgia coach Kirby Smart insists he has not lost control of a program that has produced back-to-back national championships but has been rocked by offseason arrests and a car crash that claimed the lives of a player and a recruiting staffer.
“There’s no lack of control for our program,” Smart said Tuesday before the Bulldogs’ first spring practice.
“… Our guys do make mistakes. That historically is probably going to happen when you have 18-to-22-year-olds. Our job as coaches is to prevent that from happening and that starts with me, and you do it with how you educate your players and how you discipline your players, and we’ll continue to do that at a high standard.”
Wednesday’s pro day on campus for NFL general managers and coaches will feature defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who is regarded as one of the top picks in the draft on April 27. Carter’s draft outlook has been potentially clouded by misdemeanor charges of racing and reckless driving in relation to the Jan. 15 crash that killed teammate Devin Willock and a recruiting staffer, 24-year-old Chandler LeCroy.
The crash occurred hours after the Bulldogs celebrated their second straight national championship with an Athens parade and ceremony at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia players said Tuesday they are still recovering from the losses of Willock and LeCroy.
“Like the other day we were looking at film and I saw my boy Dev and it kind of hit me real hard,” said defensive lineman Zion Logue. “So you have to put those things aside and get back to football. It was a tragic event. We all learned from it. It’s just something very unfortunate.”
Added wide receiver Ladd McConkey: “It’s a tough situation. It’s hard to even talk about it. Just do what you can and love every day like it’s the last one.”
Carter is scheduled for arraignment in municipal court in Athens on April 18. He posted a statement on his Twitter account on March 1 saying he expects to be “fully exonerated of any criminal wrongdoing.”
Carter is not the only Georgia player facing charges of racing on public roads.
Linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, the team’s second-leading tackler in 2022, was arrested on Feb. 22 on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and racing. Dumas-Johnson is scheduled for arraignment on April 17.
Smart said “the expectations we have here for our student-athletes” are important.
“Certainly we haven’t met some of those requirements,” Smart said. “We want our student-athletes to meet those and we take those things very seriously. The standards have been created here for a long time. That doesn’t change, and we want our players to live up to those.”
Smart said when players make mistakes, “we treat them like we do our kids. We discipline them. We try to prevent them. We try to educate them. We try to do all we can to help our student-athletes in a positive way.”
Police allege in an arrest warrant that Carter was racing his 2021 Jeep Trackhawk against LeCroy’s 2021 Ford Expedition at the time of the crash. Willock was a passenger in the SUV LeCroy was driving.
Police determined LeCroy’s Expedition was traveling at about 104 mph (167 kph) shortly before the crash. The arrest warrant says LeCroy’s blood-alcohol concentration was .197 at the time of the crash. The legal limit in Georgia is .08.
Smart said he had officers from Athens-Clarke County police and University of Georgia police speak to players last summer about the dangers of street racing. Seeing a teammate and staff member lose their lives may teach far more painful lessons.
“We feel like our players are beginning to acknowledge and starting to understand you make mistakes and decisions that are costly and it can cost you your life,” Smart said. “That’s not to be taken lightly, and I think our guys understand that and we’ll continue to educate them and we’ll continue to do all we can as a university to make sure they behave and do that in a proper way.”
Smart said Willock should not have been driving the vehicle that is expected to be used only for work.
“It is understood that you cannot take a vehicle when you are not doing your duties, and they were not participating in their duties at this time,” Smart said.
Reporting by the Associated Press
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