Senior day passes without Sanks

ATHENS, Ga. - Saturday should have been a day when <b>Jasper Sanks</b> could talk about survival and making the most of second chances. This should have been a day when Sanks celebrated the end of a four-year Georgia football career that may not have met all expectations but at least had some closure.

Instead of standing with his fellow seniors on the field before Saturday's final regular-season game against Houston, instead of being able to hand a football with his name on it to his mother, instead of having one more home game to close his career on his terms, Sanks instead ultimately was not invited to his own party. In the end, the biggest fumble of his career, whatever it was, came off the field.

Dismissed from the team on Nov. 21 by Coach Mark Richt for an undisclosed violation of team rules, Sanks did not share in the long-awaited win at Georgia Tech last week. If it was true that the football Fates owed Sanks a part of that game at Georgia Tech, then it also must be true that he did not allow himself the opportunity to collect on that debt, to enjoy that bit of revenge for the fumble that wasn't a fumble in 1999.

There has been much speculation about the reason Sanks was kicked off the team. To have a career end so cruelly, so near the end and especially only days before the Georgia Tech game, the assumption is that the rule that Sanks violated was of such unmistakable importance that Richt had no choice but to act with swift decision.

For most of the last 10 days, Sanks avoided all interview requests. Finally, on Friday, he spoke briefly and promised to be more revealing at a later date.

"I'll drop the whole complete thing at once,'' Sanks said when asked about the reason he was kicked off the team. "I don't want it hanging over my head. Once I make it known what went on, I want to let it all out and I want to move on. I want it all to be gone.''

Sanks, reached in Athens, sounded upbeat and said he will stay in school at least to complete the current semester.

"There's no doubt there,'' said Sanks, an education major who according to Richt needs one more semester to complete his bachelor's degree. "I'm definitely staying in school.''

This is the final statistical line on Sanks' college career: 363 carries for 1,651 yards and 12 touchdowns. That includes 84 carries for 338 yards and two touchdowns in a senior season that included only one start.

There is so much hidden behind those numbers. There was the unjustified hype that accompanied his recruiting period at Carver High School and only continued to grow when he had to spend the 1997 academic year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.

While national media - Parade magazine and USA Today - made Sanks a first-team All-American his senior season at Carver, those who covered him more closely knew better.

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer did not include Sanks on its All-Bi-City first team after his senior year. Other backs in Columbus and Phenix City had better statistics, so Sanks was a second-team pick. Similarly, the Georgia Sports Writers Association made Sanks only an honorable mention all-state pick as a senior.

No matter. The hype was on. Georgia fans wanted perception to be reality, and so Sanks was perceived to be the next great tailback.

Sanks was to be to Georgia what Jamal Lewis was to Tennessee. Sanks was to be a difference-maker, a tailback who would bring championships to Athens. Yes, to some, Sanks was even projected to be the next Herschel Walker.

When Sanks proved instead to be a tailback-turned-fullback who would struggle with his weight, struggle to stay in the good graces of his coaches and struggle just to stay on the field, the disappointment was crushing. Likewise, the negative response was overwhelming.

On the day before he was dismissed from the team, Sanks was asked if he craved anonymity, if he would rather had been a player who came to Georgia with no expectations of greatness.

"Yeah, I look around and kind of compare myself, but you know, it's what you make of it,'' he said, adding that he wasn't the only one to carry that burden.

"A lot of athletes come in with big names and similar type stuff. It's all about opportunity and getting the experience.''

 For one year, it appeared Sanks had shed his battles with expectations just like so much extra weight on his early morning runs before the 1999 season. For that one sophomore season, when he led Georgia with 896 yards rushing and posted three straight 100-yard games, the 6-foot-1 Sanks - then weighing 220 to 225 pounds - was one of the top backs in the Southeastern Conference.

Said quarterback Quincy Carter, who roomed with Sanks when both were freshmen in 1998: "Confidence-wise, he probably started reading too many articles about how bad he was. You can't read too much into stuff. You've just got to be yourself and that's what Jasper did.''

But the negative press continued to flow when that otherwise strong sophomore season was marred by two late-season fumbles. One fumble at a crucial moment of a tight game against Florida was not questioned. The other fumble at the Georgia Tech 2-yard line was so controversial it was replayed and debated on TV and sports pages for the next week and even through the offseason.

It seemed that the 1999 fumble against Tech destroyed all of Sanks' momentum. He couldn't hold the starting job in a 2000 junior season that was marked by two games in which he was hurt but, it was later learned, also was held out for disciplinary reasons. The injuries, but not the disciplinary actions,  were announced by former coach Jim Donnan at the time. Almost immediately after the 2000 season came an embarrassing December arrest at a Columbus hotel on misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession.

Sanks, insisting he was only at the wrong place at the wrong time, was cleared of the charges, but he reported for his senior season last summer at close to 250 pounds.

Despite the weight, Sanks passed his preseason conditioning tests and worked his way back to about 235 pounds. Given a new start with a new coaching staff, Sanks was upbeat all season, gladly accepting a backup role or starting job, eager to play tailback or fullback, carrying himself as a popular team leader all the way to his sudden dismissal from the team. In the days after Sanks was kicked off the team, teammates tried to reach out to him, most without success.

"I called him,'' said receiver Terrence Edwards. "I don't think he wants to talk. He just wants to be by himself.''

Said cornerback Ryan Davis, who played with Sanks both at Carver and Georgia: "I've called him but I can't get in touch with him. From what I've heard, he's just going to try to keep a positive head and keep working hard to hopefully get a chance in the NFL. It was just a case where something small grew to be something big.''

Added Davis: "I know he's had a rocky road here at Georgia, but hopefully in the long run something good will come out of the bad.''

Verron Haynes, who has delivered at tailback the last three weeks, is one of the few players to talk with Sanks.

"I told him it's not the same out there without him being there,'' Haynes said. "We all put 28 on our wrists as running backs (in the Georgia Tech game).''

Haynes said the idea of going through Senior Day without Sanks was "definitely difficult.''

"We started together. I'd like to go out with him,'' Haynes said. "I just told him I'm praying for him. He reassured me everything is well and he's going to stay in school.''

Last week, Sanks said he understood the responsibility that comes with being a major-college athlete, especially a highly recruiting running back.

"It's something that I never really question, I never really ask myself why,'' he said. "I was always told that playing sports and being a big name comes with a lot of duty and a lot of consequences, on and off the field. I think it has made me a better person.''

That is the hope of Richt, who gives much credi

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