Carver-Columbus head football coach Dell McGee said he apologized to Georgia head football coach Mark Richt and the Georgia program after three of his players, including star prospect Deion Bonner, were charged with thefts from the Bulldogs’ locker room during a recruiting trip.
“He said these were just 16-, 17-year-old kids, that kids do different things, and it’s part of growing up,” McGee said of Richt. “It’s just an isolated incident that occurred. I know our program doesn’t stand for those types of things, and I don’t want to be represented by that.”
McGee also issued an apology to the seven players who had items ranging from an iPhone to a pair of Nike slippers stolen from their lockers, saying he was “deeply remorseful and regretful for what happened.”
It’s the latest twist in the long-running relationship between the Carver and Georgia football programs.
The thefts occurred April 7, and University of Georgia Police issued warrants on Friday for the arrest of Bonner, an 18-year-old junior; Marquis Hawkins, a 17-year-old sophomore; and an unnamed juvenile. Bonner and Hawkins turned themselves in at the Clarke County jail in Athens on Monday morning.
Bonner was charged with one count of misdemeanor theft by taking and posted $1,500 bond, and Hawkins was charged with two counts of misdemeanor theft by taking and posted $3,000 bond. The juvenile is charged with three counts of theft by taking, but neither UGA police, the jail nor McGee would confirm whether the juvenile had been arrested.
“This will be a lesson for all our kids on how not to embarrass the program and how not to embarrass what you’ve established,” McGee said.
The cases will be turned over to the Clarke County district attorney, and each charge carries up to 12 months jail time and a fine up to $1,000.
McGee said each player has been suspended from the team and would not play until the sixth game of the 2011 season if any are allowed to return.
Ups and downs
Bonner, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound defensive back, is considered by some recruiting analysts to be one of the top 2012 prospects in the country and has received scholarship offers from Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, South Carolina and Southern Cal, among others.
In 1997, Georgia signed highly recruited Carver running back Jasper Sanks, who at first failed to qualify academically and later faced criticism for falling short of the expectations of many Bulldogs fans.
In February 2009, Carver linebacker Jarvis Jones, one of the nation’s top recruits, donned a USC hat on signing day and chose to travel to California to play for the Trojans.
In July 2009, Georgia coaches rescinded a scholarship offer to Carver quarterback Devin Burns after he traveled to Athens with his family to commit to the Bulldogs in person. That prompted McGee to ban Bulldogs coaches from recruiting on Carver’s campus. About two weeks later, McGee withdrew the ban and Georgia eventually re-offered Burns. The quarterback signed with Maryland instead, and Carver defensive lineman Corey Crawford said the experience led him to choose Clemson over Georgia.
Most recently, the Bulldogs scored a huge victory by signing Carver’s Isaiah Crowell, ranked by ESPN as the No. 1 running back in the 2011 recruiting class. That, too, was not without controversy as Georgia self-reported a recruiting violation involving Crowell -- using Bulldogs players to set up an offensive formation with every position except tailback -- and the NCAA very briefly made Crowell ineligible.
Of the three Carver players charged, Bonner was the only one holding a scholarship offer from Georgia.
A UGA spokesperson said the school had no comment when asked about Bonner’s standing with the Bulldogs football program, but McGee said he expected other schools to continue showing interest in recruiting Bonner.
“He’s still talking to some people, and I’m sure he will be being monitored very closely the rest of this year and leading up to his senior year for how he progresses with this,” McGee said. “He will be on a very short leash. I’ll definitely vouch for him because I think he’s a good kid and that this was a one-time incident.”
Bonner was voted a second-team member of the 2010 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Football team after a junior season in which he had 40 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass break-ups.
The juvenile who was charged had some interest from Georgia, but Hawkins, listed on the 2010 Carver roster as a 5-5, 155-pound sophomore running back, was not being recruited by Georgia, according to McGee. Hawkins’ twin brother, Marqui, plays wide receiver for Carver.
“Actions do have consequences”
On April 7, according to Carver principal Christopher Lindsey, the three Carver players visited the campus with a community coach, an assistant who is not a member of the Carver faculty but has been certified by the Georgia High School Association. McGee would not name the community coach.
On April 8, seven Georgia football players reported eight items stolen from their lockers in the Butts-Mehre Building. The items had a total value of $1,990, according to incident reports, and ranged from a $500 iPhone taken from defensive end Abry Jones to a $30 pair of Nike slippers taken from defensive back Jordan Love.
The lockers were not locked, according to the incident report, but access to the Butts-Mehre facility was secured by a fingerprint code.
UGA police chief Jimmy Williamson said a search was performed last week in Columbus, and some items were recovered, but the electronic devices had already been sold.
Williamson said checks of Facebook were “helpful” in the investigation.
McGee said the players, whom he suspended, could possibly return, but the undisclosed details of their punishments would prevent them from competing on the field for at least the first five games of the 2011 season.
“They know what their punishment is, and they won’t be back until at least the sixth game of the season with the things they have to do,” McGee said. “They see actions do have consequences.”
In addition to potential jail time and fines if convicted, the Carver players could also face disciplinary action from the Muscogee County School District. Because they were taken on the recruiting trip by a community coach associated with Carver, it is considered a district-sponsored event and opens the door for the case to potentially be turned over to the school district’s discipline tribunal, according to Gary Gibson, the Muscogee County School District system-wide athletic director and administrative assistant to the superintendent.