Bad news sucks, and this bad news especially sucks for a kid that had already gotten off to a solid start in Athens. After rumors started to swirl on Twitter yesterday, the UGA athletic department released the following statement yesterday evening:
University of Georgia freshman defensive back Rico Johnson of Adrian, Ga., has been medically disqualified from football, according to an announcement by UGA head coach Mark Richt.
Johnson experienced some neurological symptoms during practice on Wednesday and a medical evaluation discovered a neurological condition. With this condition, contact sports such as football are not considered safe due to the risk for permanent spinal cord injury.
"While we are very disappointed for Rico from a football standpoint, we feel extremely fortunate that he is healthy and that we were able to diagnose his condition and protect him from a possible catastrophic injury," said Ron Courson, Senior Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine. "Although he cannot continue his football career, he should be able to have a normal life."
"I'm thankful we caught this condition when we did," Richt said. "Now we can help Rico transition to life after football. He will stay on scholarship through his graduation and we will assist him in finding employment through the P.O. Network!"
Rico had not started, but had played in all 4 games this year on both defense and special teams. He had 5 tackles (2 solo) and a forced fumble on the year. He's a Damn Good Dawg.
But as sad as it is, Rico's career being cut short is not the primary story here (though we all feel bad for the guy and wish him the best in his future endeavors). In a week where the college football world is reeling from the brazenly irresponsible actions of Michigan's head coach and training staff in putting a clearly concussed player back in the game, this situation is yet another example of the fact that Mark Richt and Ron Courson's UGA training staff have their priorities in exactly the right place, and don't compromise them for the sake of on-field results.
In addition to the plaudits for the training staff, this situation highlights Mark Richt's longtime commitment not only to the health of his players, but also to his lifelong commitment to both their education and their success beyond the world of football. Coach Richt has said many times that beyond just on-field success, he is committed to providing his players every opportunity they need to complete their degree, even after their playing career is over.
And unlike what the AJC and "/narrative" people would have you believe, the "P.O. Network" mentioned at the end of that article is not the "parole officer" network (#thUGA). Rather, it's the Paul Oliver Network, which is a framework that Richt put into place this summer to formalize the network he's maintained for a long time to help ensure that Georgia players have the support and mentorship they need to succeed professionally and in life once their football playing days are over. This network is named after former UGA and NFL player Paul Oliver, who tragically ended his own life while suffering from the effects of CTE in September of last year.
Rico, the thoughts and prayers of the entire Bulldog Nation are with you. This news and this time in your life is going to be incredibly difficult to deal with, but try to remember that you've got a large team of supporters behind you, cheering you on to great things as you move on to this next post-playing stage of your life. We all wish you great success in the days, months, and years to come.