ATHENS — According to Kirby Smart, Julian Rochester is good to go. Based on his comments, the big freshman defensive lineman will play against North Carolina when Georgia opens the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
“Why wouldn’t he?,” Smart said when asked about Rochester’s status for the game. “I don’t know why he wouldn’t. Julian’s doing great.”
Well, there is that one matter of being charged with a felony.
Granted it seemed a silly and frivolous felony charge when Rochester was arrested last spring for discharging and possessing a weapon on campus — a BB gun. But the fact remains that it is a felony charge. Generally, UGA student-athletes charged with felonies are not permitted to compete.
So the inference is that Rochester’s case has been resolved. However, neither District Attorney Ken Mauldin nor Rochester’s lawyer Kim Stephens have returned messages seeking an update on the case.
However, persons familiar with Rochester said he completed a pretrial intervention program for the court also met several disciplinary requirements of both the athletic association and the university.
Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said Monday he isn’t aware of the Rochester’s legal status but confirmed that Rochester has been cleared to play by the athletic association’s “comprehensive plan committee.”
“After they reviewed all the facts, they forwarded a recommendation to me and that was that he not miss any games,” McGarity said.
Said Smart during his weekly news conference: “Julian’s done everything we’ve asked Julian to do. He’s done a great job for us and we’re excited about where Julian is.”
Rochester’s presence is sorely needed at a position at which Georgia has very few players. The 6-foot-5, 316-pound graduate of McEachern is bracketed with fellow freshman David Marshall at No. 2 defensive end behind sophomore starter DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle.
And the defensive line as a whole is a young and paper-thin unit. Georgia lost another defensive lineman due to the disciplinary dismissal of sophomore Chauncey Rivers. Meanwhile, sophomore defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter — who previously was slated to start at defensive end — is sidelined indefinitely while undergoing drug and alcohol treatment.
Georgia will go into the North Carolina game with junior noseguard John Atkins as the only upperclassmen. Five freshmen and two sophomores complete the rotation.
“Age don’t matter,” said Hawkins-Muckle, a 6-4, 320-pound Atlanta native:
Said Smart: “The plan is not about what year you are in school; it’s how ready you are to play. Each one of those guys has repped in camp. So our expectation is all those guys will be able to go out there and perform to our standards. Certainly there will be a little anxiety for all those true freshmen. But to be honest with you, they’ve all competed hard and they all play really hard.”