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Suspensions, arrests overshadow Bulldogs' first practice

POSTED: August 8, 2008 5:01 a.m.
The Associated Press/

Georgia coach Mark Richt speaks during a news conference at the University of Georgia before the first day of football practice Monday in Athens.

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ATHENS — High expectations for Georgia were overshadowed by off-field troubles as the Bulldogs held their first practice Monday.

Coach Mark Richt fielded questions from reporters for about 45 minutes, most of them about players being arrested, dismissed or suspended since Georgia finished last season with a dominant victory over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.

"I don't think the reputation has been ruined," Richt said, "but certainly it has taken some hits."
On Monday, Richt announced backup linebacker Darius Dewberry was suspended for the first two games of the season, making him the sixth player to be suspended or dismissed from the team in the offseason.

On Saturday night, Richt announced the indefinite suspensions of two players — snapper Jeff Henson, following his second alcohol-related arrest, and safety Donavon Baldwin, who needed stitches after he was injured in a fight in Athens early Saturday.

The 236-pound Dewberry went to St. Mary's Hospital to check on Baldwin and another teammate, linebacker Marcus Dowtin, after both suffered cuts when hit with beer bottles at a fight in an Athens bar.
Dewberry broke a barrier on a control arm at the parking lot — with his hands, not his car — and also broke four plant pots.

Richt said Dewberry "was very distraught about a teammate getting hurt badly." Dewberry has agreed to pay for the damages and the hospital is not pressing charges.

Richt said Dewberry must perform 20 hours of community service, undergo counseling and work a part-time job — including on the Saturdays while he misses the first two games — to pay for damages.
Dewberry said he apologized to an official at the hospital on Monday. He participated in Monday's practice and then issued a public apology.

"I would like to let everybody know that I apologize for my actions," Dewberry said. "I apologize to St. Mary's and I apologize to my teammates and to Bulldog fans. ... I made a bad decision. My teammates were hurt and I just overreacted."

Even with all the misdeeds and discipline handed out by Richt, Georgia is headed into one of the program's most anticipated seasons.

The Bulldogs have 19 returning starters from an 11-2 team which finished No. 2 in the final AP poll, has already been picked as preseason No. 1 in the USA Today/Coaches' poll and will no doubt be among the top teams in the AP poll when it's released on Aug. 16.

Richt acknowledged that "all too often, actually" he's been left with "a sickening feeling" after learning of another arrest, fight or other incident.

"You feel sad and sick that one of the guys you're an authority figure over and you care about got himself in trouble," he said. "You also hate the fact those guys do represent this program and this program represents this university and this university represents this state. It represents anybody who claims to be a Bulldog. I feel sick about that."

Richt said former Georgia defensive end Michael Lemon, dismissed from the team last month following an arrest for misdemeanor battery and felony aggravated battery, also was charged with underage drinking at the hospital this weekend.

Baldwin was arrested and charged with driving under the influence in January and already had been suspended for one game.

Henson, a West Hall graduate and Georgia's snapper on punts the last two seasons, missed last season's Sugar Bowl following a DUI arrest.

"It's certainly been a distraction," Richt said. "I mean there's no way you can say it hasn't been a distraction, because it has been."

Richt said he talked to his players about the problems on Sunday.

"I've already read them the riot act," Richt said before adding he doesn't want to kick players off the team just to satisfy those tired of seeing names of Georgia players included on the Athens-Clarke County police blotter.

"If a guy has a first-time offense, I don't believe in throwing that guy under the bus to try to stave off the wolves, so to speak," Richt said. "I don't think it's fair to the guy. Dewberry, for example, I don't think I should throw Dewberry off the football team. I've never had a problem with Darius Dewberry."


Added Richt: "We will look into other ways of making sure we do a better job."

Players are banned from downtown Athens during preseason camp, and Richt said he has considered extending that ban.

"That's a decision he has to make," senior tight end Tripp Chandler said. "I don't know if I would blame him for it with what's gone on this offseason."

The problems have not been limited to this year.

Chandler was suspended for one game last year after he was arrested downtown and charged with underage possession of alcohol.

"Downtown, that can be fun for a lot of guys, but the team and what we're able to do this season is a lot more important than going out and having fun with college students," Chandler said.

Receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said players are aware they all may be judged by the actions of teammates.

"We don't want to be looked at as bad guys or thugs," Massaquoi said. "We just have to move forward. We understand what was done and we understand we can't afford to have those mistakes in the future."



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