Parking problem: For Georgia football players, getting around is far from convenient

Georgia football - scooters
These were two of the approximately 30 scooters parked outside Georgia's football building on Wednesday.

ATHENS – On a given afternoon on UGA’s campus, Jacob Eason can be seen driving his scooter, navigating his way from his dorm, to class, and to the football building. Then Georgia’s starting quarterback and budding star will park, joining two long rows of scooters outside the Butts-Mehre building.

Other Georgia football players will park their cars at the closest space they can find, which isn’t close. And still others will just walk, or use the campus bus system. It’s a choice that every player has to make at Georgia, where for all the benefits they get as athletes, one of them is not easy parking.

“We have the most beautiful campus in the world,” said Kolton Houston, a former Georgia offensive lineman. “But it’s not the most efficiently set up for a college athlete.”

Houston estimated that about 75 percent of his teammates used a scooter while he was at Georgia, from 2010-15. It’s a necessity for many, as dorms and off-campus housing are far from the football facility, so a player’s average day is fairly spread out. While some steps have been taken to alleviate the parking crunch lately, on Wednesday afternoon there were still approximately 30 scooters parked on the ground floor of Georgia’s football building.

It’s become a fact of life of being a Georgia football player. Sometimes a fun one.

“I’d always heard of the big 350-pound lineman riding scooters, Athens-style,” said sophomore tight end Charlie Woerner, who purchased a scooter one month after arriving on campus.

Junior receiver Michael Chigbu is one of the players who doesn’t own a scooter, and instead walks or takes his chances with the bus schedule.

“Parking is kind of hard. But you deal with it,” Chigbu said. “You can’t do anything about it.”

Indeed, it has been the situation for years. But as UGA catches up to its peers in the facility arms race – completing the $30.2 million indoor facility this year and beginning the $63 million Sanford Stadium renovation – improving the player parking situation doesn’t appear on the priority list.

Houston, now a banker in St. Simons, thinks it should be.

“I guarantee you another coach uses that in recruiting,” Houston said.

Other schools have more convenient parking for their athletes. At Alabama, the football facility has a massive parking lot right next to it, so players can park and walk right in. The same is true at Auburn and Clemson, according to Houston, who visited each of those schools.

In the past few years, UGA’s athletics department has made financial agreements that allow players to park at the closest parking deck — which is about a five-minute, uphill walk — or behind a church on Lumpkin Street, which is closer but doesn’t always have available spots.

“That was better. But still not ideal,” Houston said.

A solution — a place to build a new lot — isn’t easy. There’s an elementary school across the street. The outdoor track, popular with the public, is on another side.

Two rows of scooters line up outside the UGA football building during practice this week. (Seth Emerson/DawgNation)

Players who park in an unauthorized spot risk get parking tickets. History shows there is no preferential treatment of athletes. Jarvis Jones, in the midst of one of his All-America season, found his car towed.

Such stories are commonplace among players.

“I try to stay away from [driving], because those parking tickets, they rack up pretty quick,” sophomore tight end Isaac Nauta said, grinning.

Some players find the bus system’s schedule doesn’t jell with their daily schedules, which usually feature classes in the morning, then team meetings and practices, study sessions and more.

“Man, these busses get packed, slam-full,” Nauta said. “And when we’ve got to get class to class, [scooters are] definitely the quickest way to go about it. So just time efficiency.”

But it also comes with risks: Baseball player Chance Veazey was paralyzed in a motor scooter accident in 2009. On a much smaller scale, Ray Drew got in a scooter accident as a freshman in 2011, hurting his arm and missing a week of practice.

UGA spokesman Claude Felton said football players, like any student, are required to purchase a campus parking permit. Houston, who arrived at UGA just after Veazey’s accident, went to the DMV and passed a motorcycle driving test, out of an excess of caution.

Houston said he heard talk of building a parking lot where the turf practice fields were located. But that idea was nixed when Georgia officials decided to build the indoor facility on the football grass fields.

Athletics director Greg McGarity was asked whether, any consideration was given to creating parking for players when the indoor facility was planned. McGarity declined to comment, referring to Felton, who said that “given the lack of space in our footprint, that was not a consideration.” During an interview this past spring, McGarity said he didn’t believe many players used scooters, and pointed to the department paying for players to use the parking deck.

Houston ended up putting over 13,000 miles on that scooter, which he still owns. He doesn’t use it anymore, and hopes there’s a day that future Georgia players won’t have to either.

“There’s not enough parking on campus,” Houston said. “It’s not an ideal situation.”

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