At Georgia, you can go home again

semerson@macon.comAugust 23, 2012 

ATHENS -- Ken Malcome remembers his mind being a torrent of frustration ... everything going wrong and having no control over it. The easiest way out, the part he could control, was to walk into his head coach’s office and say he was leaving.

So he did that.

“People that talk kinda negative don’t have a clue what’s going on,” Malcome said. “A lot of things are going through kids’ minds, especially in college: School, personal problems, anything. And plus football not going your way. There’s a lot of suffering in your mind.”

So Malcome, mired in this suffering last fall, decided to transfer from the Georgia football team. And only then did his mind gain clarity: He wanted to stay. He had made the wrong decision.

To transfer is not unusual. It happens hundreds of times each year in college football.

But to leave and then decide to come back is more unusual, except perhaps on this Bulldogs team. Malcome, now the starting tailback, safety Mark Deas, linebacker Brandon Burrows and linebacker Dexter Morant all have changed their minds after their transfers were announced.

And each time, their head coach let them come back. Mark Richt did not close the door behind those players.

Because that would have made him a hypocrite.

When Richt was a quarterback at Miami in the early 1980s, he was blocked on the depth chart by Jim Kelly, the future NFL Hall of Famer. So after spring practice Richt told head coach Howard Schnellenberger he was out.

“Well, if you change your mind, lemme know,” Richt recalled Schnellenberger saying.

And Richt did about a week later. He the finished his career at Miami and graduated. So Richt is sympathetic to players who are suddenly having to battle for playing time in college after being the star of their high school teams or are having trouble adjusting to being “micro-managed” by academic counselors.

“I’ll tell them, ‘Son, there’s a difference between making that decision to leave and then living it out,’ ” Richt said. “You’re gonna make that decision, and now all of a sudden you’re gonna live the reality of that decision. If you feel like you did something that you shouldn’t have done, then I’m more than likely gonna allow you to come back. Not always.”

The exceptions, Richt said, are players who are clearly just trying to avoid hard work. Without naming names, he points to a walk-on who left at the beginning of spring practice then wanted to return later. But he couldn’t recall any scholarship players he wouldn’t let back on the team.

Malcome changed his mind in the middle of last season, after fewer than 24 hours. Morant also had a quick turnaround back in 2010, when he left a few days into the first week of practice, then returned a couple of days later.

But it took longer for Deas and Burrows, who like Malcome and Morant were members of the 2010 recruiting class, redshirted their first season and then struggled to see playing time in 2011.

Deas’ departure was announced during spring practice this year. He stayed on campus while he examined his options, and about a week later he had his epiphany. He was with Georgia’s players at a barbecue pool party, and they were talking about a scrimmage.

“We were out there having a good time. And I was just like, ‘I can’t leave this place,, ” Deas said. “I built a foundation here. I’ve made my marks on this campus. Leaving here would definitely set me back. ... I was just like, ‘You know what, I need to be here. No matter what my role is.’ ”

Burrows, an inside linebacker, announced through Georgia in June that he was leaving. He released a statement saying he preferred to play in a 4-3 defense, which he was recruited to Georgia to play in. Privately, he was frustrated by having never seen the field, thanks to shoulder surgery last year.

Burrows moved out of his dorm. A few other schools called to gauge interest.

But during the course of the next five days, he had the same change of heart that Malcome and Deas had.

“Once I had left, it didn’t feel right,” Burrows said. “I guess I’m glad it happened. After that I was able to realize what I have here. The best opportunity of my life thus far. It just re-opened my eyes, which is good. Because honestly this is a tremendous opportunity, a privilege.”

The decision to return has so far been the right one for Malcome. He rose back on the depth chart, starting Georgia’s final two games last season, and he is likely to start this year’s opener.

“Coach Richt said he had a situation that was the same,” Malcome said. “He just wanted me to work harder, do what I could on and off the field. ... I changed all that, and things fell into place.”

Deas and Burrows are still buried on the depth chart. But they say their brief departures from the team have given them a peace they wouldn’t have had if they had never left.

That’s why Deas says he doesn’t regret deciding to transfer, even if he did come back. He had to do it in order to appreciate what he had.

“You know, there’s been setbacks, with injuries, or whatever. I just felt I was leaving here and I didn’t give it all I had,” Deas said. “And even if I gave it all I had and it wasn’t good enough, I tried, and I have my role on this team. And that’s all I can ask for. It’s something I can tell my kids someday.

“It’s something that will be good on my résumé: I didn’t quit or give up, I didn’t leave Georgia to go somewhere else just because of football. There’s more to life than football. So there’s no other thing I could possibly do than to stay here and stick it out.”

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