Group guiding Dogs off the field

ATHENS, Ga. – Some members of Georgia’s football team are taking it upon themselves to try to deter some of the program’s recent off-the-field issues.

Cornerback Brandon Boykin is one of the UGA players participating in a leadership group on the Bulldogs' team.

An informal players-led leadership group was formed midway through the 2010 season. It will continue into the 2011 season and is basically a football-based offshoot of the leadership council that is in place for all UGA athletes.

“It’s mainly to police ourselves to avoid it having to be dealt with by the administration and Coach (Mark) Richt," said junior linebacker Christian Robinson.

The small group of players is similar to the practice of “peer invention” groups used by -- among others -- Nick Saban at Alabama and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State. In Saban's setup, a 15-player panel is granted power by the coaching staff to dole out specific punishment for misdeeds among teammates.

In the case of the Bulldogs, the panel serves more of an advisory role, with a structure not as formal or driven by the team's coaches.

In fact, Robinson said the idea for the football-only leadership group originated with UGA associate AD for academic services Ted White, who heads the Rankin Smith Academic Center.

“He asked us to get some of the leaders on the team amongst ourselves that would be the guys that will lead this team,” Robinson said. “He knows us just as well as some of the coaches do. … He has challenged us to be proactive before the coaches get to certain guys about behavior and things like that. I’ve really noticed that group is growing close. We really act together as a unit to police and guide the team. A lot of other guys want to be in that group, but it was a very specific group of guys, from seniors to freshmen that come up with ideas on ways to make this team better.”

“It’s a little bit of everything,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said, “from (discipline) to what could be better, what kind of activities we could do on a weekend or something like that. It’s a good thing. We’re the people our teammates respect. We are the players. We know what we expect from each other and what we like. So I think that it’s really helping.”

White said he originally started an academically based group last spring with 20 players, and that many of those same players took that idea and ran with it, applying it more to the football team in the form of the leadership panel.

Freshman wide receiver Michael Bennett was named by teammates as being a part of the leadership panel.

“It’s just real good,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We talk about a lot of issues that we feel need to be dealt with on the team. We take those issues and present them to group, and then it goes from them to Coach Richt. It’s just stuff that we feel can make the team better in the end and stuff we feel like we can do to get this team back on track."

UGA athletics director Greg McGarity said he supported the idea.

“That’s really your first line of defense, players holding each other accountable,” McGarity said. “If they see certain things that are not right, instead of waiting for the coaches to step in, that’s what you really want to see in every program. You want to have certain individuals that hold others accountable.”

Along with Boykin and Robinson, the panel -- according to those two players -- includes other veteran players like tight end Aron White, center Ben Jones, tight end Orson Charles and wide receiver Tavarres King.

But also in the group: Murray, quarterback Hutson Mason, wide receiver Michael Bennett and offensive lineman Kenarious Gates. Each of the four was a freshman during the 2010 season, and Bennett was redshirted.

Robinson said the group is designed to include 10 or 11 players.

“It’s not just anybody. It’s not just football performance,” Robinson said. “There are guys who have never played in that group, but they are guys that have character and are respected by their teammates.”

A total of 11 players in UGA’s program were arrested during 2010, a run that garnered much negative attention and ended in October with an unpaid traffic ticket arrest – and subsequent two-game suspension – for tailback Caleb King.

Despite a five-month period without a known arrest, Richt is taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to leadership in 2011.

“I think each individual has got to make good decisions,” Richt said. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily a leadership thing, although I’m sure there are guys that are trying to help in that area, no doubt.

“I think this summer is really going to be the test to see who is really going to step up and lead.”

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