Thurman suspended three games

ATHENS – What many people hope will be a dream season for the Georgia football team hit its first bump Sunday evening before it officially even began.

Starting middle linebacker Odell Thurman, a preseason first-team, All-SEC selection, was suspended for the first three games of the season for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Thurman, a 2001 graduate of Monticello High School, was named the team's best defensive player in spring practice and chosen as a preseason first-team All-American by Lindy's magazine.

"We have rules that must be adhered to by all members of our team," Coach Mark Richt said in a statement released by the school. "It's sometimes an unpleasant duty of a coach, but discipline is an important part of team unity and ultimately, team success. Hopefully, an important lesson is learned that will be of benefit in the future."

Thurman will miss the Georgia Southern, South Carolina and Marshall games, and will be eligible to return to the team for the Oct. 2 game against LSU if he meets all the requirements of the punishment imposed by Richt.

Richt could not be reached for further comment, but he has to be nearing the end of his patience with the junior. Thurman signed with the Bulldogs in 2001 but didn't play because he was a partial qualifier. In the spring prior to the 2002, he was kicked off the team, and he played that year at Georgia Military Academy.

He returned in 2003 with a fantastic season in which he had 121 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, but the season started on a sour note. In August of last year, he was arrested on misdemeanor charges stemming from a traffic stop and days later, his father died.

Thurman could not be reached for comment.

Sunday was supposed to be slow day for the Bulldogs. The team checked in Saturday, and Sunday's schedule included only physicals, meetings and dinner for the team's upperclassmen.

Thurman's suspension will mean some shuffling for linebackers coach Brian VanGorder. Derrick White is listed as the team's top backup in the middle, but he is battling Danny Verdun Wheeler for the starting spot on the weakside due to an injury to Tony Taylor. White now probably will go into the middle, and he and Verdun Wheeler will start along with strongside linebacker Arnold Harrison in the first three games of the season.

White and Verdun Wheeler have only five combined collegiate starts. Last season, White, a 6-foot-2, 233-pound junior, had 36 tackles and one sack. Verdun Wheeler, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore from Thomson High School, had 14 tackles last year.

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