ATHENS — You know all that stuff about “sign with the college and not the coach” and “it’s just part of the business.” Yeah? Well sometimes that doesn’t go over too well.
We still don’t know a lot about what happened to Trent Thompson early Thursday morning and what it all means. But we’re finding out that this was a pretty upset young man in recent weeks and months.
According to his high school coach, Thompson was unhappy about what happened to Tracy Rocker, his position coach at Georgia. And while that’s not necessarily the reason Thompson ended up having an unexpected encounter with police and ended up in the hospital, it’s something that has been weighing on him of late and may have contributed to his state of mind.
“I know he was upset when Coach Rocker left,” Westover High football coach Octavia Jones told me as he drove into Atlanta from Albany on Friday. “Him and Coach Rocker were very close. Coach Rocker was very instrumental in him coming to Georgia.”
Rocker was the lead recruiter on Thompson when he signed with the Bulldogs in February of 2015. It was a big deal. Thompson was rated the No. 1 overall football recruiting prospect in America, according to 247Sports’ composite ratings.
Rocker and Georgia suddenly parted ways on Feb. 7, less than a week after national signing day.
“Trenton is the kind of person, if you take an interest in his life, he’s going to be very close to them and very loyal to them,” Jones shared. “I know Coach Rocker filled a void in his life that I had with him when he was here. I know he was very upset when that whole episode happened.”
And, of course, nobody really knows what happened. Rocker may have been fired or he may have simply decided to move on to new things. But neither Georgia nor Rocker has done much to shed any light on the subject.
And apparently that extends to the players that played for him.
“Nobody really knows what happened,” Jones said. “Nobody knows where Coach Rocker is. I know that bothered him. I know he was upset about that.”
Details remain foggy about what left Thompson disoriented and incoherent in the middle of a road on South Campus. We have a police report describing what state he was in when an officer literally ran up on him at 1:14 a.m. Thursday morning, and we have a statement from UGA saying Thompson is withdrawing from school to get further medical treatment. Oh, and that Thompson hadn’t actually taken OxyContin like he told police that he had.
None of that really matters. At the end of it all, what we know is Thompson has some problems that need addressing, and that appears to be happening.
And as my conversation with Coach Jones reveals, people at UGA and those who are close to Thompson were already aware that he was having some issues.
Jones told me that one of his assistant coaches, Nikki Carlisle, went to Athens on Thursday to pick up Thompson and take him to the Westover-Sandy Creek playoff basketball game in Tyrone. That did not happen.
“He got there to pick him up and his blood pressure was just too high and they didn’t think it’d be a good idea for him to come to the game,” Jones said. “… The whole idea of him coming to the game was that it’d be a good idea for him to see some familiar faces, get a chance to get out. The whole situation has been stressful for him. That was the whole point, see the faces of old coaches and students.”
So clearly there were some concerns about Thompson before Thursday.
Jones also confirmed that Thompson, coming off an MVP performance in the Liberty Bowl, had recently undergone postseason surgery for a shoulder injury. And there may have been other medical procedures performed at other times.
“His freshman year he battled a lot of injuries,” Jones said. “They talked about the possibility of having surgery then but I think he finally got around to it this offseason. He had problems with ankles, shoulders, he was really going through it. I know he did have one surgery that was successful this offseason.”
What his departure would do to the UGA football team remains a legitimate topic. Georgia’s defensive line will get its first hands-on look at news defensive line coach Tray Scott during spring practice in a couple of weeks. That offers the first real, legitimate look at what UGA might be able to expect in the fall in a possible world without Thompson.
No doubt, Thompson has had a lot going on. Right now information remains cryptic. And it’s doubtful there will be much more enlightenment going forward. As we move past the public incident that attracted police cars and an ambulance to the Joe Frank Harris Commons area of campus in the middle of the night, federal privacy laws regarding health and personal information will kick in. And appropriately so.
Look, these kinds of stories suck. I know that’s not a very eloquent way to put it, but it’s honestly how I feel. None of us get in this business to report on these kinds of things. We like to write about games and plays and interesting personalities. And I have children. I can imagine how distressing it can be to see their life’s difficulties on display for all the world to see.
But these players aren’t just regular kids. Thompson was considered the best high school football player in the country when he graduated. Google his name and see how many impressions you’ll get.
Like it or not, they’re very public figures.