ATHENS -- For six months, those close to and around Isaiah Crowell swore he had turned a corner. They said the oft-troubled player had learned and matured and was on his way to being the next great Georgia tailback.
That all unraveled Friday, as an early morning traffic stop led to an abrupt end to Crowell’s Georgia football career.
And his legal troubles might just be beginning.
Crowell, the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year, was dismissed from the Georgia football team Friday. That came hours after he was released from jail in Athens, following an arrest on two felony weapon charges and one misdemeanor.
Crowell was arrested on charges of carrying a weapon in a school zone and having an altered ID mark, both felonies. He also was booked on a misdemeanor charge of possessing/carrying a concealed weapon.
Having a gun in a school zone brings a sentence of two to five years in jail, according to Georgia sentencing guidelines, while altering the serial numbers on a gun is anywhere from one year to five years.
Crowell was released from jail a little before 1 p.m. on Friday. Hours later, head coach Mark Richt released a statement saying Crowell was dismissed, and his statement did not mention the tailback.
“We have a dedicated and committed group of men who are working hard to prepare for the coming season,” Richt said in the statement. “Our total focus will be directed toward the team and this effort.”
Crowell declined to offer any reaction when reached on his cell phone a few minutes after the dismissal was announced. His mother Debbie also declined to comment.
It was a sudden end for a tailback whom many Georgia fans were hoping could be the equal of the great Herschel Walker. And just months ago, Crowell had spoken about making a run for the Heisman Trophy this year.
“My first goal is to be a good teammate, help my team get to the national championship,” Crowell said in March, when he used spring practice to move back into the good graces of his coaches.
Crowell was thought to be the answer to the team’s troubles at tailback when he signed with Georgia in 2011. The team was reeling from off-field issues at tailback, and after Crowell signed, the team’s top two rushers from 2010 (Washaun Ealey and Caleb King) left the team unceremoniously.
At first, Crowell lived up to the hype. Four times last year, Crowell was named the SEC’s freshman of the week. He finished as the team’s leading rusher with 847 yards, including 619 in the first six games.
But injuries and off-field troubles derailed everything. He was suspended for the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game for an unspecified violation, and then a drug violation knocked him out of the New Mexico State game.
Crowell did not miss any spring practices, and teammates had good things to say about him. Tight end Arthur Lynch said he had seen Crowell “mature from the day he got here, when we had to drag him to workouts, to now, when he’s the leader of his group during workouts.”
But whatever progress Crowell made, the traffic stop Friday changed everything.
Crowell was driving a 2005 Mercury Grand Marquis, owned by his mother, when it was pulled over at 2:20 a.m. on campus at a vehicle checkpoint. Four other Georgia players were in the car: fellow sophomore and Columbus-Carver product Quintavius Harrow and incoming freshmen Sheldon Dawson, Blake Tibbs and Josh Harvey-Clemons.
The officer reported that he smelled marijuana. Crowell, according to the police report, told the officecr they had just come from a club called “Aftermath” and that’s where the smell “probably came from.” The police searched, and no marijuana was found, but a handgun -- a black Luger 9 mm -- was found below the driver’s seat. It had an altered serial number, according to the report.
All of the passengers were searched, nothing was found, and they were eventually let go.
“I placed Crowell under arrest,” officer Kathryn Thornton wrote. “I read him Miranda and he said he wanted to talk. He said that other people drive his car. I asked, other people like those guys in there now, and he said no, other people. He denied knowing the gun was there.”
Crowell also said he did not have a handgun permit. A background check showed that he had no prior criminal history.
While Harrow was being searched, an officer asked Crowell, “Why are you so nervous?”
This is the second straight year that Georgia’s top two rushers from the previous season are gone from the team prematurely: King and Ealey after 2010 and Crowell and Carlton Thomas, who transferred, after 2011.
And Crowell is the second highly touted tailback from Carver to not make it at Georgia, following Jasper Sanks.
In fact, Sanks offered up some advice to Crowell last year. Crowell talked about that before last season.
“Really he’s (been) telling me to keep my head on straight, and he was telling me that he messed up ... certain things not to do, certain things to do and work hard when I got up here,” Crowell said.
Instead, like Sanks, Crowell will have to finish his career elsewhere.