The season of second chances
After receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow left the Washington program following his arrest for being involved in a fight during a Super Bowl celebration for the Seattle Seahawks, it didn't take long for other FBS programs to line up for his services.
In fact, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was so upset about not landing Stringfellow, who was charged with two counts of fourth-degree assault and one count of third-degree malicious mischief, that he all but accused Ole Miss' coaches of improper recruiting.
Former Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed in April after he was accused (but never charged) with pushing an 18-year-old female student down four stairs. He had previously been arrested twice on marijuana-related charges. Despite Green-Beckham's troubled past, Oklahoma accepted him as a transfer in July and has even appealed to the NCAA for a waiver to allow him to play this season.
After former Georgia defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons was dismissed by Bulldogs coach Mark Richt for at least the third off-field transgression of his college career, he quickly found a landing spot at Louisville, where he'll be reunited with former UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Harvey-Clemons, who will have to sit out this coming season under NCAA transfer rules, was scheduled to miss the Bulldogs' first three games because of a suspension.
From the return of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino to the resurfacing of Iowa State offensive coordinator Mark Mangino to transfers of once-highly regarded players around the country, it's going to be a season of second chances in 2014. Players who found trouble at their former schools are hoping a change in scenery will lead to success with their new programs. Their new schools are taking risks that they won't make mistakes again.
Who hasn't made mistakes and lost their temper? I just thank God that all of mine weren't public. I know the guy and know his mom. I'm really confident that what happened isn't indicative of his character and who he is.” -- Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, on transfer Damore'ea Stringfellow, who was charged with three misdemeanors after a fight at Washington
"That's the tough part of the business -- telling a kid he doesn't belong here and needs to move on," Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said. "There's not a coach in America that doesn't think he can turn a kid around. They think once a kid is in their program and they can get their arms around him, they can change a young person who has made mistakes in the past. I think it is part of the coaching creed."
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said the Rebels wouldn't have taken a chance on Stringfellow if they hadn't been intimately involved in his recruitment out of high school. Stringfellow, from Moreno Valley, California, pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors and was sentenced to two days on a work crew, fined $693 and ordered to undergo anger management counseling. He caught 20 passes for 259 yards with one touchdown as a freshman at UW and will have three years' eligibility at Ole Miss after sitting out the 2014 season.
"There are always exceptions, but for us to do something like that we probably needed to be in a prior relationship with him," Freeze said. "We really thought we were really close to getting him out of high school. Who hasn't made mistakes and lost their temper? I just thank God that all of mine weren't public. I know the guy and know his mom. I'm really confident that what happened [at Washington] isn't indicative of his character and who he is."
Oklahoma also was heavily involved in Green-Beckham's recruitment out of high school. The No. 3 prospect in the ESPN 150 as a prep senior in 2011, Green-Beckham played two seasons at Missouri, catching 59 passes for 883 yards with 12 touchdowns last season.
"I had a close relationship as did [Jay] Norvell, our receivers coach, from recruiting Dorial personally as well as with his family," OU coach Bob Stoops told reporters at Big 12 media days. "And then through extensive conversations with the people at Missouri and our people, it was something that we felt the person that he is, the potential that he has as a young man and as an individual, that we felt the opportunity to give him a second chance at our place could serve him well and be great for his future. [We] believe in him as a young man and what he's able to maybe continue to become."
Freeze said it's always difficult to dismiss a player from school, but sometimes their actions make it the only option.
"We're always slow to write someone off," Freeze said. "It's not in our nature. I feel like I've failed and my staff feels like it failed. Once you go into a kid's home and meet the people who care about them, you're slow to write a kid off. Their failures are our failures and their successes are our successes. With the culture they live in or come from, it might be part of their DNA. It's our job to help them navigate through it."
Some players have even found second chances at their original schools. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is back after missing the 2013 season because of academic misconduct. Golson, who led the Fighting Irish to the 2012 BCS title game, was named the Fighting Irish's starter last week.
Alabama defensive lineman D.J. Pettway has rejoined the Crimson Tide, after spending last season at East Mississippi Junior College. Pettway was one of four Alabama players arrested in February 2013 for physically attacking and robbing two students on campus. Pettway was granted youthful offender status; the other three players weren't allowed to return to Alabama.
Shortly after Pettway re-signed with Alabama in December, coach Nick Saban told Al.com: "The university made a decision that he could come back. We made a decision that we wanted him back. We know D.J. Pettway very well. He certainly made a mistake in terms of what he did. We felt that this one person, because he did the things he was required to do, deserved a second chance."
There have been plenty of success stories involving second-chance players. Last season, former Georgia defensive back Nick Marshall, who was dismissed from UGA for stealing money from a teammate, helped lead Auburn to the BCS National Championship Game as the Tigers' quarterback. In 2010, quarterback Cam Newton, who left Florida after he was arrested for stealing a student's laptop and then tossing it out of a dorm window, led Auburn to a BCS national title and won the Heisman Trophy.
Auburn recently accepted former UGA defensive back Tray Matthews, who was dismissed after a few off-field transgressions, including being charged with theft by deception for cashing university-issued stipend checks twice.
"I think each institution must make a decision on the admissibility question," McGarity said. "It's up to each institution to make its own decisions. We don't have a policy in place restricting where a young man or young woman can go. We've always felt that life's too short, especially during the college time, and that they need to be happy. We hope things work out for them, even if it didn't work out at Georgia."
Louisville also has been a major player in college football's waiver wire. Along with Harvey-Clemons, the Cardinals landed former Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins, who was arrested in January for speeding while driving with a suspended license.
Perhaps more than any other program, Louisville has become college football's "Second Chance U." Petrino, who guided the Cardinals to a 41-9 record from 2003 to '06, is back after spending the 2012 season in exile and 2013 as Western Kentucky's coach. Petrino was fired as Arkansas' coach in April 2012 after he lied to athletic director Jeff Long about the circumstances of his infamous motorcycle accident, in which his mistress was riding on the back.
After Louisville hired Petrino to replace Charlie Strong in January, Cardinals athletic director Tom Jurich called Petrino a "changed man."
Now, the second-chance coach is trying to turn around a handful of second-chance players.
"I think [with] the experiences I've had, that I can help young men with the obstacles that they're going to be presented with off the field and the situations that are going to come up," Petrino told reporters at ACC media days. "And be able to help them and give them second chances."