What Happened? - The Curious Case of Zander Ogletree

USA TODAY Sports

With the recent departure of Zander Ogletree from the Georgia football team, a number of questions have been raised around the circumstances that lead to the other half of the brothers 'Tree ending his playing days in Athens early.

As was noted here by Mr. Sanchez, news broke a couple of days ago that Zander Ogletree is no longer a member of the Georgia football team. The rising senior, and twin brother of Alec Ogletree, reportedly ended his career early 'due to medical concerns.' As Weiszer notes, there has been rampant speculation in recent weeks that Ogletree was no longer a member of the team...I'm in Hong Kong, and I've heard rumors of grade issues, disciplinary issues, desires to transfer, etc. To me, though, something just doesn't seem quite right here, but...

Let's give a little background first. To begin with, Ogletree signed as a mid-level recruit out of Newnan in what many considered a packaged deal to ensure Georgia also landed his brother, the heralded linebacker, Alec Ogletree. Ogletree quickly earned playing time on special teams and at fullback, appearing in all but one game in his true freshman season. He was the backup fullback for the duration of the 2011 season, appearing in every game. 2012 came along, and suddenly everything changed. Ogletree, along with his brother, was suspended for the first four games of the season. Given the duration of the suspension, one would assume that this was not Ogletree's first offense, though there's never been any other violation to my knowledge. Ogletree did miss the Tech game his freshman year, so it's possible that he was suspended but word never made it to the media.

By the time Zander returned from suspension in 2012, he found himself firmly buried on the depth chart, behind two true freshmen, Quayvon Hicks and former walk-on Merritt Hall. Ogletree didn't even make the 70 man travel roster for the South Carolina game, and, were it not for injuries to the players in front of him, likely wouldn't have seen playing time the rest of the year. As it was, though, Z seized the opportunity at playing time afforded him in the Kentucky game, going on to appear in each of the remaining eight games of the season. At this point, it appeared that Zander had alleviated some of the attitude issues that had plagued him and was back in the good graces of his coaches.

...Fast forward a few months, and just two months after voicing interest in playing football professionally after earning a degree at Georgia...just two months after playing in eight consecutive games...the playing days of an athlete who never missed time due to injury in his entire career at UGA are over because of medical concerns? Pardon my language, but, what the hell? On top of that, the only statement given by Mark Richt - usually a guy who's very open with information, particularly with regards to players ending careers due to injury - was this: 'He's got a medical issue and he can't play anymore, but he's going to stay in school and we hope he does well in school and graduates.' That's a far stretch from what he had to say about Quintin Banks when the former Bulldog defensive back had to hang up the cleats due to medical issues:

Banks “has basically decided to retire from football,” Richt said Thursday. “His knees have just not allowed him to move the way he’s accustomed to moving and move well enough to compete at this level.” Richt said Banks will have surgery “and try to get it all cleaned up” before he graduates. In the meantime, he will stay involved with the team and “help us coach,” Richt said. “He has tremendous knowledge, tremendous love for this team and his teammates. He’s got a wonderful spirit,” Richt said. “Quintin is exactly what we’re looking for when it comes to a good Bulldog.“ As a head coach, you hope that when a young man walks out the door he’s ready for life. And Quintin is absolutely ready. He’s turned into a really fine man, and anybody looking for a tremendous employee and future leader, Quintin is that.”

So let's get to the real meat of this...my thought here is that Richt is borrowing a bit from the roster management playbook of everyone's favorite oversigner, Nick Saban, and is using the medical hardship as a means of lowering scholarship numbers. Before the news about Ogletree came out, Georgia was sitting at 90 scholarships for the upcoming football season, with four of those being taken up by players who play or could play fullback (Hicks, Hall, Ogletree, and incoming freshman Brendan Douglas). The problem with that, of course, is that the NCAA only allows teams to have 85 scholarship athletes at a time, so something's gotta give. But wait...Richt said Ogletree would remain on athletic scholarship and finish out his degree, so how does this help us? Well, enter NCAA regulations about medical hardships:

A medical disqualification or medical non-counter is a different situation. This involves a medical condition in which the student-athlete is advised to not ever further participate in intercollegiate athletics. If this situation is approved, the student-athlete may retain their grant-in-aid at the discretion of the institution for the remainder of their four to five year college experience. The next academic year, the student-athlete doesn’t count toward the maximum number of grants allotted to a team.
My, that's convenient, ain't it? That just works out peachy for everybody!

Here's my take: Sometime after the Bowl game, Mr. Ogletree found himself, once again, out of the good graces of his coaches, whether by generally having a bad attitude, or by committing some other sort of undocumented violation of team rules. At this point, there's no reason to keep Zander around to placate his brother, but rather than kick young 'Tree off the team for the third offense and ending his chances of getting a degree at the University, good-hearted Coach Richt came up with a solution via the medical hardship route. Georgia then went out and signed Brendan Douglas late in the recruiting process to shore up any depth issues at FB that might arise, while Zander gets to save face, finish out his degree at Georgia on scholarship, and we all go happily on our way.

What do you think, Dawg people? Does my theory have some legs to it, or am I reading too much into the situation? Sound off in the comments below, and, as always...

Go Dawgs!

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