Winning overshadows Gators’ off-the field problems

Published 4:02 am Saturday, July 4, 2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Former Florida offensive lineman Drew Miller remembers all the team meetings, the lengthy lectures about hanging out with the right people, making smart decisions and avoiding situations that would draw negative attention.

To Miller, it seemed like Gators coach Urban Meyer or one of his assistants was always talking about staying out of trouble.

Miller also knew that message wouldn’t reach all his teammates.

‘‘It’s not going to get to everyone,’’ said Miller, who graduated last year and is trying to catch on in the NFL. ‘‘There’s so many players. You can’t baby-sit them all. There’s too many guys to keep them all out of trouble. Someone’s going to screw up.’’

That’s certainly been the case at Florida, where there have been 24 arrests involving Gators over the last four years under Meyer.

Although the number of Florida players arrested is similar to that of its rivals, the Gators are getting attention because they have won two national titles in the last three years and have a coach who emphasizes good behavior.

Meyer points out that college students often make mistakes and that the majority of the charges have been misdemeanors.

‘‘This group of players we have now are by and large a pretty good group,’’ Meyer said in a statement. ‘‘Like most young people, they are trying to find their way.

‘‘It is a continual part of our program to mentor and guide our players, and it is not an exact process. Although we have been very successful with most, we are by no means perfect. We are disappointed when we encounter some issues along the way, but we are going to continue to educate and teach our players.’’

The latest issue involved cornerback Janoris Jenkins, one of the team’s top defenders. He was charged with misdemeanor affray and resisting arrest without violence after his alleged involvement in a fight outside a Gainesville nightclub.

According to police, Jenkins hit a man in the head on May 30 and threw another punch after officers ordered him and others to stop fighting. An officer then shot Jenkins with a Taser stun gun. Jenkins attempted to run, but was caught about a block away.

Jenkins’ attorney, Huntley Johnson, said his client acted in self-defense against someone trying to steal his necklace and that the charges could be dismissed.

Even though Jenkins and walk-on running back Marquis Hannah, charged with unarmed burglary — a second-degree felony — are the only current players with pending criminal cases, the recent arrests provided Internet message boards with plenty of fodder. Some even called the school ‘‘The University of Felons.’’

‘‘No one here condones our players stepping out of line, and everyone here wants to get better,’’ athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. ‘‘However, Urban Meyer and his staff are the best that I have seen in modifying behavior, and at the end of the day, the majority of the players who come through this program will make us all proud and not just because they are good football players.’’

Florida’s opponents have also had their problems.

Florida State’s football program has dealt with 13 arrests over the same four-year period, according to research by The Gainesville Sun, while Tennessee has had 21 arrests and Georgia 30.

Although Meyer has been known to give players a chance to redeem themselves, he has cut ties to those who repeatedly find trouble.

Meyer kicked offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson, safety Jamar Hornsby and cornerback Jacques Rickerson off the team after giving them multiple chances.

Wilson was arrested three times in a year and a half, the first time for punching and spitting on a man outside a Gainesville nightclub in April 2007 and then taking an AK-47 assault rifle out of the trunk of a car and firing it into the air.