For a moment, it was unclear if Natrez Patrick would return to the Georgia football team.
Hours after Georgia's win over Auburn in the SEC Championship on Dec. 2, 2017, Patrick was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Later, he failed two drug tests required as part of a probation agreement with Athens-Clarke County, stemming from a previous marijuana-related arrest. To avoid jail time, Patrick checked into a rehabilitation center in late December.
After a stint there, Patrick was present on the sideline for Georgia's national championship loss to Alabama. And he has since been with the program during offseason conditioning workouts. With spring practice beginning Tuesday, Patrick is participating with his teammates for the first time since the first few Rose Bowl practices in Athens.
"Natrez came back after the national championship game," head coach Kirby Smart said. "He's been able to join us. He's done everything we've asked. He's working hard on and off the field. I've been pleased with his ability to come back and overcome some hurdles in his life."
Patrick's December arrest marked the third time he was booked on a marijuana-related charge. In the past, that would have been automatic grounds for dismissal. However, Georgia's drug policy changed recently to allow for certain offenders who are dealing with addiction not to be subject to removal from the team.
Patrick fell into this category and has been able to remain a part of the program. It is not known whether he will face another suspension.
Defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter can empathize with what Patrick has gone through. Ledbetter was arrested twice on alcohol-related charges before his sophomore season. The first case, which was dismissed, was for underage possession of alcohol and possessing a fake ID. The second was for driving under the influence of alcohol.
Ledbetter served a six-game suspension and has since become one of Georgia's defensive leaders. He hasn't had an off-field issue since. Ledbetter has offered his support for Patrick through the turbulent time.
"Natrez was my roommate for some time. I try to talk to him and we try to help each other out," Ledbetter said. "He was my rock. I was his rock for a while. We kind of fell off for a second. He's back where he needs to be. He knows what he needs to do to be the football player he's supposed to become. He's doing that and I'm proud of him.
"I really think he's going to step up this year and be a really good player."
As far as football goes, Georgia could certainly use Patrick this season. With both Roquan Smith and Reggie Carter gone at inside linebacker, Patrick's experience as a rising senior would be a boost for the team. As a junior in 2017, Patrick totaled 35 tackles in nine games. His best season statistically came in 2016, when Patrick recorded a team second-best 59 tackles.
"Natrez is a great teammate, a great guy," defensive back J.R. Reed said. "He's going to be a great leader for us. I'm happy to see him out there with us because he can lead this team, and he can help us on defense a lot."