ATHENS, Ga. -- As it turns out, Georgia didn't make it out of the offseason with either of its top two rushers from last season still on the team.
Caleb King missed five games last season either through suspension or injury. He still finished second on the team in rushing behind Washaun Ealey. (Photo by Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Tailback Caleb King, a projected starter, has been declared academically ineligible for fall semester and will not be a part of the 2011 team, UGA confirmed Friday.
King joins Washaun Ealey, last year's leading rusher who transferred to Jacksonville State earlier this summer in what was described as a mutual parting of ways.
"It's unfortunate Caleb will not be with us this season," Mark Richt said in a statement. "We wish him the best in whatever he decides to do; however, we have to move forward and this will provide more opportunities for others to step up."
Per UGA, "King indicated he will consider the options available to him before making a decision on his future plans."
This news had to be a serious disappointment to Georgia's staff, since Richt said multiple times in May that he expected King to be on the team in the fall. The coach went so far as to say that King “has become, I think, a very dependable football player.”
“People can have a debate on how effective he’s been,” Richt said at a Bulldog Club stop in South Carolina, “but when it comes to knowing what to do, when it comes to pass protection, when it comes to doing the things that we’re asking him to do, he does a good job.”
The absence of King and Ealey virtually guarantees that true freshman signee Isaiah Crowell will be Georgia's top tailback heading into the season opener against Boise State.
Junior Carlton Thomas returns as the team's top returning rusher, having totalled 272 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Hard-nosed redshirt freshman Ken Malcome impressed on the scout team last year, while walk-on Brandon Harton did enough this past spring to be rated ahead of Malcome -- who was fighting a groin injury -- on the team's official post-spring depth chart.
Atop that list was King.
A highly regarded recruit when he signed with UGA after a final season at Greater Atlanta Christian, King has endured an up-and-down college career where he never consistenly met those expectations for a variety of reasons.
He rushed for 430 yards on 80 carries last season but missed five games -- two because of an early ankle injury and three more because of suspension. He missed two games after a midseason arrest for an unpaid traffic ticket and didn't travel with the team for the Liberty Bowl after running afoul of UGA's policy by missing too many academic appointments.
Nonetheless, King said this past spring that he was excited for his final season at UGA.
"I’m motivated. I’m focused," he said at the time. "It’s my last year, one-and-done.”
Georgia could potentially look to the defensive side of the football for depth at running back. Backup inside linebacker Richard Samuel moved from tailback after the 2009 season, and speedy third cornerback Branden Smith was already expected to receive plenty of touches on offense this season.