The Crownless Could Be King Again

COLUMN: Fletcher Page delves into Caleb King's recent struggles and inquires about his future plan.

ATHENS – I get the feeling Caleb King is afraid of the media.

Actually, I'll step out on the limb and say I at least know King doesn't see much use for newspaper stories or online articles – not now.

The senior running back has seen both the good and the bad sides of the media machine. He knows what the press can do for you; he knows what the media can hold against you.

Last season, amid injuries, academic troubles and an arrest for driving with a suspended license, the Red & Black, the University of Georgia student newspaper, wrote a story about King in mid-October.

The story drubbed up a police report filed six months earlier, claiming King had taken a $500 loan from a female friend. Also, the police report was added online, which depicted accusations of lewd acts and outrageous behavior.

The R&B ventured so far as to wonder aloud if King's actions were an NCAA violation.

I don't know if Caleb King is a good person or not. I don't care if he is or not. But he was treated unfairly in that instance – there is no way around that fact.

There was no violation. There were never charges pressed against King. But there was about week's worth of newsprint, putting everything out in the public without having questioned King about the report or getting in touch with the female who made the accusations. I understand the journalists at the R&B are students (I worked there for over two years). But King is still a student, too. Don't forget that.

By the time everything was sorted out, the R&B made quick mention that Georgia was in the clear; no NCAA violation had occurred. Never mind that King's reputation was publicly ripped up and thrown in the burn pile in the process of figuring out that nothing was wrong in the first place.

"I mean, that's the media, you know? You can't really hide," King said. "The position I'm in, with Georgia football and especially in the SEC and NCAA period, you really can't hide anything in the crevice. I mean, the situation was already dealt with and already in the past. It got back somehow. That's what is expected with the position I'm in. I've got to take that."

Even before this whole ordeal went down, King was already nervous around reporters. He ducked interviews frequently. And he just never seemed comfortable answering questions about himself.

Let's be real here: King has struggled to become the next big thing recruiting services led fans to believe that he would become. He's had injury woes, been arrested once and was suspended for the Liberty Bowl last season due to missed academic meetings.

Some of King's troubles are of his own doing; some are natural football happenings.

"He's really a good guy at heart," said junior linebacker Christian Robinson, who was King's teammate for a season at GAC. "He just got caught up."

Recently, a member of the media asked King for comment about fan support, adding "some of the fans don't love you anymore." As always, leave it to those of us in the media to remind King of the negatives.

"I mean, of course you want the fans on your side," King said. "I didn't know they didn't love me any more (laughter). I think the fans will come with – I know I'm going to have a good season this year. I know I'm going to have a breakout season. I believe the fans will come after that, so that's just extra motivation as well. Of course you want people to pull for you. People love that, and it comes with the game. So, I think that comes with the good plays and the long runs and the tough runs and all that."

Parallel to what were most likely King's lowest moments, the Georgia backfield hit the jackpot this winter. Carver star tailback Isaiah Crowell signed with the Bulldogs in February, giving fans reason to forget whether King could get his act together. The mindset of the fans? Jay-Z's "On To The Next One."

King has heard all about Crowell. He acknowledges that he was Isaiah Crowell a few years ago – the next heralded running back to draw words like "Herschel" and "Walker" as flash points in recruiting write-ups.

"I can't wait for (Crowell) to come down here and get him under my wings and tell him that everything I did – don't do it," King said.

King seems to understand the "Too much too soon," mentality. He talks about the attitude, hype and pressure of being the next big recruit.

And almost five years later, King says he wants to help Crowell avoid the pitfalls that come with the territory.

"Don't ride on the hype when you get here," King said. "You're still a freshman. You're still starting from zero. You still have to work your way up, so just get here and just focus on the playbook and blocking. Blocking is a big thing. I mean, everybody knows you can run; that's why you're here."

And of course, King's biggest message to Crowell may be to keep everything off the field in order, too.

"It's a self-thing," King said. "I'm a grown man. I've been here a while. So it's a self-thing. I'm on top of myself so I can do the right things. I learned."

Presently, King is in good standing (with the coaches and academically). I can't tell you he won't get in trouble again. I can't say for sure he's hitting every workout and practice like it's his last. But I can say that King realizes this is it. He's got one season left – a possibility of 14 games left to do this thing they call college football.

"Caleb's been practicing very well," said coach Mark Richt. "It seems like he's been practicing with a great focus and a physical attitude. Seems to be in pretty good condition every time he makes a run as of late he pops up and sprints back to the huddle. He's playing with a lot of energy."

People may be on the Crowell-high. That's fine, and I get all that. But King may still prove to be extremely important this season – one way or another. He's a fifth-year senior. He's started in SEC games. He's made mistakes, but also scored touchdowns.

That's still significant.

"Spring is going well," he said. "I mean it's always good when I don't have injuries, so that's a plus. I'm just going out there to try and work hard every day and get in the film room as well. I'm just trying to become a better player this year."

Presently, two of the first three headlines on a Google search of "Caleb King" are of the negative variety. Maybe that's fair. Maybe it isn't.

"But it's the past," King said. "I'm not worried about that. I don't wake up and let that mess up my day because I'm still playing football. I'm still in school."

And he still could be a factor on offense. Which would change the headlines, too.

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