Towers Take: Indications are that Trent Thompson will be back with Dogs

A medical issue brought Trent Thompson to the attention of police and should not prevent him from competing as a student-athlete for the Georgia Bulldogs next fall.

ATHENS – I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Trent Thompson at Georgia. I believe the Bulldogs’ star defensive tackle will be back with the team this summer and play this fall, perhaps even in the first game.

Increasingly, I find that’s the question I am asked with regard to events that took place late last week. So I figured I’d answer it right off the bat. That’s my guess, of course.

What do I base this on? I base it on the mounting evidence that Thompson didn’t do anything wrong.

It’s important to note as we move further away from the early-morning incident that drew police and emergency responders to the Joe Frank Harris Commons area of South Campus last Thursday that Thompson was not arrested. Yes, there was some talk of Thompson having possibly taken painkillers in the police report, and it’s something that Thompson admits.

But then there is also UGA pointing out later in a statement that Thompson tested negative for OxyContin. And, regardless, it is made clear that Thompson was on some sort of prescribed medications. Police are made aware of that as soon as they contact athletics personnel.

Since then, UGA police have filed a “supplemental report” about the incident, which DawgNation obtained Monday morning. While a lot of the information therein is repetitive from the initial report, there are some conclusions unveiled there that shed a little more light on the subject. The new report – notably described as “sick person” under “Investigative Type” —  is from Sgt. Seth Robinson. He is introduced as “a drug recognition expert and emergency medical responder.”

Robinson was on the scene and is represented on body-cam footage viewed by DawgNation. Initially, Robinson reports that he believes they’re dealing with a person under the influence of drugs. He cites Thompson’s “dazed state,” “red eyes” and non-reactive pupils.

“Based on my training (Thompson’s behavior) could be caused by drug use,” specifically, “narcotic analgesics,” Robinson writes.

Then Robinson stipulates, and the body cam footage corroborates, that Thompson doesn’t actually say that he took “OxyContin,” as was stated in the initial report. He’s asked if he has taken “any pain pills” and Thompson answers yes. Asked how many he says”two.” Asked what kind, he responds “yeah” only after Robinson mentions “Oxies.”

But it’s also important to realize that Thompson was virtually incoherent at this point and largely unresponsive. After determining that Thompson is a football player, Robinson and other officers are concerned that he may be suffering from a possible head injury incurred during practice or in a fight.

Eventually, though, Robinson got around to taking Thompson’s pulse. When he does he is “surprised” to find it at 120 beats a minute, which is “not consistent with narcotic analgesics.” And they learn from a call to Bryant Gantt of UGA athletics that Thompson is “on some medication” prescribed by team doctors.

Finally, Robinson makes a very significant conclusion at the end of his supplemental report:

“I advised Lt. Gregory that even though he admitted to having taken OxyContin that I believed at this point something else was also taking place and causing the medical emergency. … Based on the information we obtained from athletics staff and what was observed, I believed there to be multiple issues and without knowing exactly what he was taking a determination of exactly what was going on would not be possible.”

Thompson was Georgia’s most productive defensive lineman by far and is coming off an MVP performance in the Liberty Bowl. BRANT SANDERLIN / AJC

Whatever actual issues with which Thompson is dealing, he has withdrawn from school to attend to them full time. At the least, this knocks him out of participating in Georgia’s spring practice, which begin next month. As it was, he wasn’t going to be able to take part because of the offseason shoulder surgery he underwent, which could be central to this entire episode.

That brings us to the secondary storyline developing from this incident: How does all this affect Georgia’s defensive line?

Without question, Thompson was/is the Bulldogs’ best defensive lineman. If there were any doubt beyond Thompson’s presence atop the tackle charts – he led all down-linemen with 56 tackle and 5 sacks – Thompson removed it with his overall and defensive MVP designation in the Liberty Bowl at the end of the season.

But Georgia has some quality depth on the defensive front. Rising senior John Atkins leads a group that includes juniors Jonathan Ledbetter and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, sophomores Julian Rochester, David Marshall, Tyler Clark, Justin Young and Michail Carter. While missing out on a couple of high-profile defensive line recruits, the Bulldogs are bringing in highly-touted prospects Devonte Wyatt and Malik Herring.

In all, there are about a dozen other players that Georgia can plug in along the defensive front. But, to be sure, there are none quite like Trent Thompson.

That will be the considerable challenge of new defensive line coach Tray Scott to get sorted out. In the meantime, Thompson is free to get his issues sorted out. And it’s the belief here that he will.

One key component to all this will be whether Thompson can maintain his academic eligibility in the meantime. As we all know, student-athletes are required to complete a minimum amount of class credits toward their degree each year in order to remain eligible to compete in athletics. Thompson having to sit out spring semester has to be detrimental in that regard.

However, NCAA rules and regulations allow for schools to pursue a “progress-toward-degree” waiver to restore eligibility for competition. According to the NCAA’s official website, To qualify for such a waiver, “institutions must document the mitigating circumstances that caused the deficiency. A common circumstance is a student-athlete facing a serious medical issue or other personal hardship.”

Thompson’s situation certainly would appear to fall into that category. But at this point, his physical and mental well-being is more important than what it means for the Bulldogs on the field of play this fall.

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