More Trouble in the Secondary

ATHENS – Coach Mark Richt briefly spoke to Branden Smith about his arrest Monday morning.

The phone call had a bad connection, but Richt soon gathered most of the details.

Reported first by, Smith was arrested and booked into the Henry County (Ala.) jail for possession of marijuana, a misdemeanor offense, on Sunday.

"Branden, unfortunately, got himself in some trouble," coach Mark Richt said. "I don't have all the details yet. We're working on that. In due time, we'll let you know."

A rising senior from Atlanta, Smith appeared in 14 games in 2011, making seven starts.

He recorded 24 tackles, two interceptions, rushed for 100 yards and caught three passes.

With the loss of Brandon Boykin and a unit short on depth, Smith was almost assured a starting role in 2012. A one-game suspension is mandatory punishment for misdemeanor arrests according to University of Georgia student guidelines, athletic director Greg McGarity confirmed. Any further punishment is up to coach Richt's discretion, McGarity said.

"We had a mandatory meeting with every student athlete the week before spring break to go over this very thing," McGarity said. "…We've got 600 young men and women in our program. When someone steps outside the lines then we have to self-evaluate. Is there more we could have done? I think at the end of the day it comes down to accountability for student athletes."

Adding frustration to the situation, Smith's impending punishment will further hamstring a secondary that already lacks for able bodies.

Starter Sanders Commings received a two-game suspension following an arrest for domestic violence in January.

Nick Marshall and Chris Sanders, two underclassmen expected to contribute in 2012, were dismissed from the team in February for a violation of team rules.

"It's very frustrating," Richt said. "Would it frustrate you? If you were the head ball coach you'd be very frustrated. The timing isn't very good either."

Richt's mention of timing was in reference to spring break, which officially began last Friday afternoon. But the timing was also off-putting considering the announcement for Richt's three-year contract extension was announced Monday.

Player's behavior away from the field is just as much Richt's responsibility as his team's performance during games.

"When guys do make mistakes two things are very important: How we handle it, and how he handles it," Richt said. "Are we going to discipline our players the way they ought to be disciplined according to what they've done? I think we do that, maybe more strict than other people do. …Our goal when our guys make mistakes is to find out the truth about it and discipline it properly. Now, the second thing that's important is how they respond to it."

McGarity discussed how proactive his department has been in attempting to educate players about making good choices and staying away from trouble. Richt has invited countless former players and speakers to deliver positive messages to his team.

"That's the frustrating part," McGarity said. "You just have a hard time understanding what people think. It's so uncharacteristic of some of these individuals that you just scratch your head and look inward to see what we could have done more to help prevent this."

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