ATHENS — A.J. Green said Tuesday he lost sleep worrying that his four-game suspension contributed to Georgia's poor start.
Green's four-game suspension ends this week, and he spoke for the first time about selling his Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000 to former North Carolina and Marshall player Chris Hawkins. The NCAA ruled Hawkins was deemed to be an agent when it suspended Green, Georgia's top receiver.
Georgia, 1-3 overall and 0-3 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1993, plays at Colorado on Saturday. Green returns with Georgia in last place in the SEC East.
"It was just a painful process," Green said. "I'm not the type of guy who ever got in trouble here or stuff like that. Sometimes I couldn't sleep just thinking about stuff like that. It was a painful process. I'm just glad it's over."
The Bulldogs have struggled on offense without Green, a 2009 first-team All-SEC pick. They scored a combined 18 points in road losses at South Carolina and Mississippi State.
"Yeah, I feel that I caused a lot of people pain, because I felt like if I was out there some of the time we really had a chance," Green said. "I beat myself up pretty much over that but this taught me a valuable lesson. Now I'm growing up and I've got to do the right thing because I'm under the spotlight and this showed me how much people are looking at me now."
Green, a 6-foot-4 junior, had 109 catches for 1,772 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He has been projected as a high first-round pick if he enters the 2011 NFL draft.
Green said he has never met or talked with Hawkins. Green says he sold the jersey on Facebook because he needed the money for spring break.
Green's suspension stemmed from an investigation of athletes' alleged improper contact with agents at several SEC and Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
Green said the NCAA asked about a rumor he attended a party at Miami's South Beach.
Green said the NCAA believed him when he said he didn't attend the party. He said the NCAA obtained his bank statements during the investigation and asked him about the $1,000.
"I told them," Green said. "I'm not going to lie to them and jeopardize my whole season. So I told them."
He said he deserved the suspension though at first he didn't think selling the jersey was a big deal.
"I really didn't think it was going to be anything serious when I did it," he said. "I didn't think it through. I just did it. It came back and it was a big thing. I served my punishment and I'm ready to play now."
Georgia coach Mark Richt said he hopes Green and other players learned a lesson.
"I'm sure he learned something from it," Richt said. "I would think everybody saw what happened to A.J. and if they were in that position would not kind of give in to whoever is trying to convince you this is a good thing to do or this is OK to do."
Richt said Georgia players "know we've got a better chance with (Green) than without him" but he said Kris Durham and others have played well at receiver.
Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray said the Bulldogs can't count on Green's return to provide an automatic end to the team's struggles.
"We know we're not going to automatically start winning games just because of one player," Murray said. "All of us need to step up our game. ... We're making plays and then we're not making plays. We've got to be more consistent.
"He's definitely going to help us. It's nice having him back. But as a whole we've got to step up our game."
Murray said it has been difficult to have Green in practice the last four weeks and know the gifted receiver would not play in the games.
"It gets a little sad sometime," Murray said. "You want to throw him the ball and then I think no, I don't even want to throw it to him right now because it's just going to make me a little upset that I can't throw it to him on Saturdays.
"It's definitely going to be nice having him back this week. I'm excited for him. He's pretty upset he hasn't been able to be with us the past four weeks. He's definitely pumped up and ready to go and we're excited for him to be back."