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Mark Richt, Nick Marshall, and the Special Tragedy of Squandered Opportunity

Well, this is a hell of a note.

Today was going to be a lazy sunny Friday in Bulldog Nation. I had a rant about men’s basketball scheduled to be posted at noon, which was bumped back to Saturday evening due to intervening events, and, after the issue with Josh Harvey-Clemons’s letter of intent was resolved, I was going to chide the folks in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall for misspelling his name:

Unfortunately, a rumor-riddled Thursday afternoon gave way to a news-breaking Friday morning, as it was made known that Nick Marshall, Chris Sanders, and Sanford Seay had been dismissed from the team. Marshall and Seay reportedly were involved in a theft from a teammate.

This development is frustrating, for a number of reasons. First of all, after a largely trouble-free offseason last year, I hate to see these sorts of incidents recurring. (For the “thUGA!” crowd, though, I’d like to point out that, when an accusation like this results in a swift dismissal from the program, the head guy is doing a pretty good job of enforcing standards of conduct, even if circumstances regrettably require him to punish bad behavior rather than reward good behavior.)

Secondly, if you’re going to have to boot three players, you’d rather it not happen immediately after National Signing Day. The coaching staff set its recruiting priorities based on the players it believed would be in the fold, and, now, three of them will not be. The coaches’ recruiting strategy undoubtedly would have shifted somewhat had these dismissals occurred earlier, but, because of the timing, the team simply has to absorb the loss without much in the way of satisfactory recourse.

Finally, and most importantly, I hate to see Nick Marshall’s time in Athens end this way.

I’m not from Wilcox County, but my family is. About 150 years ago, when my great-great-grandfather returned home to South Georgia after spending part of the War as a prisoner of war at Point Lookout, Maryland, he wanted to get away from anything that reminded him of the War, which was hard for him to do where he was from, as the home to which he returned was in Andersonville, which already was infamous for the prisoner of war camp located there.

To get away from those memories, he moved to Wilcox County. My family has been there ever since. My parents moved to the Atlanta area after they were married in 1963, which is why I was raised in Clayton County, but they moved back to South Georgia a little over ten years ago, and many of my relatives have been in Wilcox County for all or most of their lives. I still think of my grandparents’ house in Pitts as the place to wake up on Christmas morning.

It was, therefore, a big deal to me when Mark Richt recruited a player from Wilcox County. Nick Marshall’s recruitment was covered heavily here for that reason. Coincidentally, a fellow who originally hailed from that area sits in the row behind me in Sanford Stadium, and, whenever Marshall made a play, we always turned to one another and commented on it. Marshall’s success was a point of pride for folks from Wilcox County, and, because my family lives there and my people are buried there, it was a point of pride for me, too.

The guy on the left is my cousin. The guy on the right is Nick Marshall. That picture was taken at Wilcox County High School a year ago, on National Signing Day. It was supposed to be the start of a grand journey for a talented athlete who, like a lot of talented athletes, didn’t come from the best of circumstances, but who had the opportunity to go off to college and prepare himself for a brighter future due to his God-given gifts. Cynics like to sneer at the extent to which student-athletes sometimes fail to live up to the seven letters to the left of the hyphen, but, given the extent to which the improvement of body and mind both are central to the Western educational ideal, I can’t honestly say that a guy who runs a 4.25-second 40-yard dash but isn’t a whiz in the classroom is any less complete a pupil than I was; we just happened to excel at a different 50 per cent of the job description, but we both fell equally short of the goal, yet we both were in a position to make the most of the half each of us did well.

Because the reason given for the dismissals was amorphous and indications are that police were not involved, I am not going to presume to sit in judgment based solely on the word of unidentified sources. Officially, we know only that “[m]istakes were made,” to borrow Mark Richt’s use of the passive voice. Well, whatever errors in judgment occurred, mistakes were made, and University of Georgia careers were ended. That is unfortunate, both for the individuals and for the institution. It remains to be seen what ill effects the University and the former Bulldog football players will suffer as a result, and how well and how quickly each will recover from those mistakes, but it is difficult, at the moment, to shake the sense of frustration that follows inevitably from the act of witnessing what may have been unclear in many respects, but what pretty obviously was a senseless and stupid waste.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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