How coaches help prepare student-athletes for college life

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Two years ago, Stephenson defensive end Chauncey Rivers and Tucker defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter were two of the top defensive recruits in the state and nation.

Both players were ranked on ESPN’s Top 300 prospect list and had committed to the University of Georgia with hopes of becoming major contributors for Georgia’s defense.

However, off-the field issues have ended that dream for one player and delayed the dream for the other.

In May, Rivers was dismissed from the Georgia football team after his third drug-related arrest.

According to reports, Doraville police found Rivers passed out behind the steering wheel of a car in a handicapped parking space in front of a Quiktrip on Pleasantdale Road.

Rivers faced four charges, including a felony violation of Georgia’s Controlled Substance Act. Rivers was already facing a three-game suspension to start this season after two previous arrests last year.

Rivers was arrested on Nov. 4 and Dec. 12 on possession of marijuana charges for the two separate incidents.

Ledbetter was arrested twice within a four-month span—first in March for underage drinking and then for driving under the influence in July. Instead of being kicked off the team, Georgia football coach Kirby Smart announced that Ledbetter would be disciplined and placed in an “intensified education, counseling and medical assistance program.”

There have been multiple cases of college athletes getting in trouble with the law, even after being instructed on the importance being a good student-athlete and staying on the right paths.

Some DeKalb County coaches said they have programs, rules or classes in place to help the players understand the importance of making the right decisions once they go off to college.

“We try to educate them as much as possible on everything; from using examples of guys…we’ll use Jonathan as an example with our younger kids and try to use that as a teachable moment to be able to teach them,” Tucker coach Bryan Lamar said. “Of course going through health class and just coming through high school, [they’re] going to learn about drugs, alcohol and decision making.”

Lamar, who coached Ledbetter, said he and his staff try to do as much as they can to teach their players about decision making, accountability, consequences and understanding that athletes are viewed in a different light.

“College kids get arrested for drunk driving and all types of things every single day all around the country, but when you’re an athlete it’s on ESPN,” Lamar said. “So we’re teaching them that along with all of the praise and accolades that come with being a football star or a football player there also comes a lot of responsibility. [They’re] going to be shown in a different light when something happens.”

Despite his recent run-ins with the law, Lamar said Ledbetter is still a good person and student.
“He had great grades last semester at Georgia, [has] done a good job on the academic end and had some issues that he needs to get resolved socially,” Lamar said. “It’s no different than [with] anybody else. You have people that deal with all types of issues in their personal life, and he just has some things that he has to deal with, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.”

Stephenson assistant football coach Donald Sellers said there are mentoring programs and other resources in place to help direct the players’ path academically and socially to help them become better people.

“We have people who are helping our program, as well as coaches standing in and doing as many things as they can to keep them on the right track because it’s easy to go off to the side,” Sellers said.

“We can lay the foundation for them, and with support from parents, the community, administration and school members and all of us working together as a family we can help keep these kids on the right track. That’s not saying that they won’t make mistakes because that’s what people do. But it is saying that we’ll be there to support them when they do. We’re not going to close the door on anybody; we’re going to help them all.”

Cedar Grove coach Jermaine Smith said there are consequences when his players make bad decisions, but also rewards them when they make good decisions.

“We try to balance it out so they’ll feel good about themselves when they do something good, and understand what happens when they do something bad,” Smith said. “It’s tough because as a coach you spend a lot of time with them, but we get them for high school, and sometimes they get off to [college] and they make bad decisions. But that doesn’t make them a bad kid—they’re still 19, 20, 21.
“I think one of the biggest things that our kids have to understand is that one of the best things about [today] is social media and one of the worst things about now is social media,” Smith added. “So they have to understand that all eyes are on them at all times.”

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