Fulmer upset by thuggery

No, UT doesn't stand for University of Thugs. But you might think so based on the Knoxville police blotter in recent months.

Freshmen football players Jerod Mayo and Robert Ayers were escorted from practice on arrest warrants Tuesday afternoon, less than 48 hours after freshman quarterback Brent Schaeffer and sophomore receiver Bret Smith were arrested and charged with assault.

Head coach Phillip Fulmer said during a 20-minute post-practice news conference that he believes Mayo's arrest to be a case of ''mistaken identity.'' As a result, Mayo will resume practicing with the team once he is released from police custody. Ayers will be withheld from practice until further notice.

The arrest of Mayo and Ayers occurred in connection with a disturbance involving several football players and fraternity members roughly five weeks ago at the University Center ballroom. Fulmer said junior defensive end Daniel Brooks ''was there, and he shouldn't have been there,'' but that Brooks was ''not involved in that particular incident.''

Still, Brooks has been involved in several prior incidents. Although none led to charges, Fulmer has ordered him to perform community service and sit out the first two games next fall.

Forcing players to miss games is the ''ultimate'' penalty, Fulmer said, but he added that it also penalizes teammates ''who didn't do anything.''

The arrest of Mayo and Ayers, coming so closely on the heels of Sunday's arrest of Schaeffer and Smith for allegedly assaulting a male student at a campus dorm, clearly has Fulmer exasperated. He noted that because Schaeffer plays a ''leadership position,'' his poor decision-making ''doesn't reflect well.''

Moreover, this week's ugly developments come just two months after defensive tackle Tony McDaniel was arrested for allegedly punching out a fellow student during a pickup basketball game.

Citing ''some young hot heads who haven't behaved themselves,'' Fulmer said he is ''extremely embarrassed and disappointed.''

Frustrated, too. The head man's anger flashed to the surface near the end of his impromptu news conference. After conceding that his tolerance level is ''very low right now,'' he was asked if he'll be stricter in the future.

''I'm not in the emotional state right now to say WHAT I'm going to do,'' he said.

With 18 starters back from a team that went 10-3 and thrashed Texas A&M 38-7 in the Cotton Bowl, Tennessee is projected as a top-five program for 2005. That makes the recent off-field problems potentially devastating to the team, as well as disturbing to the community.

''Our efforts need to be centered toward trying to win all our games, rather than who's in court this week,'' Fulmer said.

The head man issued a blanket apology for the recent misdeeds of several players but acknowledged that some of them grew up in difficult circumstances and face what he called ''a society change ... A lot of places you fight for everything you get. It's different when you get to this environment.''

After noting that his program has produced ''a lot of success stories'' in turning around the lives of troubled athletes, Fulmer conceded there have been some notable exceptions. He specifically mentioned receiver James Banks and tailback Onterrio Smith, two star-caliber players who had to be dismissed from the program.

Fulmer noted the irony of his dealings with athletes in that he's ''trying to teach them to be physical and tough on the field ... gentlemen off the field.''

Although he pointed out that he routinely promises the parents of UT's players to be accountable for them, Fulmer added that ''There isn't any question we'll pull the trigger (dismiss them) if we need to pull the trigger.''

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