ATHENS — Kirby Smart was counting on Trevor Etienne to make headlines at Georgia, but not the kind that broke on Sunday morning.

Etienne, the Bulldogs’ biggest offseason acquisition and a key to the Bulldogs’ 2024 championship hopes, was arrested and released on Sunday morning on DUI and reckless driving charges.

And so one of the biggest questions about the 2024 Georgia football team just got bigger: Who and where is the internal team leadership coming from?

Coaches can stand before their teams and bark orders and standards all day, but Smart and others have noted the best teams are player-led, with teammates holding one another accountable.

Smart has noted it’s a young team, to the extent Smart suggested Etienne had emerged as a leader in the UGA running backs room in the offseason.

“Everything we’ve heard about Etienne before he got here has held true, he’s a tremendous leader, he’s a high character kid, so he immediately surges into a leadership role,” Smart said at the opening spring football press conference last month.

“He’s not a first-year player. He’s been in our league and our conference, and he has standards and expectations.”

Etienne shared how much he loved his new teammates and the Georgia championship environment.

“Everyone has been welcoming me with open arms …. I’m in this with the long run with ya’ll,” Etienne said on a podcast with Ratledge. “Coming from another program, I see how you interact with each other, I see how you all care and love one another, so that made it easier for me to get to know everyone.”

There are responsibilities that come along with that “connection” piece Smart puts so much emphasis on.

There are still challenges, even on the tightest and most accomplished of teams. Smart and his staff -- along with many of the current players -- understand how things can go wrong.

Georgia had a well-documented tragic and disappointing offseason last year filled with multiple driving-related arrests and incidents.

It led to the UGA Athletic Association “actively addressing” the issue with “educational measures, mentorship, and when necessary, punitive action.”

Smart does not want to see his program go down that road again off the field.

On the field, Etienne was brought in to help bring back the days of “RBU.”

The Florida transfer has been a standout in spring drills with his lightning-quick cuts and burst in open sessions and in other practices, per observers.

Smart — once an RB coach for the Bulldogs under Mark Richt — noted how quickly Etienne had caught on.

“He has not struggled to transition in that part,” Smart said. “Getting comfortable in the offense, there are nuances. I have met with him about it.”

The next meeting between Smart and Etienne will not be about football.

Smart will surely address the issue in full force, holding Etienne accountable, and likely reminding him of how many people are counting on him to realize his full potential.

There’s a reason why Etienne’s family wanted him at Georgia — a championship level program where Smart is known for his ability to develop young men off the field as well as on it.

Etienne’s rushing yards and touchdowns will take care of themselves, a banner season is within reach.

Smart knows what to do when he has a truly great back: D’Andre Swift piled up 1,434 yards on 220 touches in 2019 — the last time a Georgia back earned All-SEC honors.

Ratledge has already told Etienne the Bulldogs’ powerful offensive line will pave the way for him to gain 200 yards in a game this season.

Etienne is capable of even more once on track, provided he continues to keep his efforts at a premium.

“In terms of his efforts and practice habits, we have encouraged him to give great effort, run the ball, pass the last defender,” Smart said. “He is a sponge. He has absorbed that. He has enjoyed getting pushed. He is enjoying the competition of that room because there are guys he is competing with within that room.

“I am very pleased with where he is and hope that he will continue the trajectory he is on.”

The trajectory dipped early Sunday morning, Etienne fumbled in his leadership role.

More and better is expected from Etienne.

More importantly, the talented young back must expect more from himself.

Historic Georgia RBU leaders

1981 Herschel Walker

(Heisman finalist, includes 12th game, Sugar Bowl)

427 touches, 2,112 yards, 24 touchdowns

(17-137-2 receiving, 410-1,975-22 rushing)

1992 Garrison Hearst

(Heisman finalist, includes 12th game, Citrus Bowl)

274 touches, 2,032 yards, 23 touchdowns

(23-322-2 receiving, 251-1710-21 rushing)

2008 Knowshon Moreno

283 touches, 1,792 yards, 18 touchdowns

(33-392-2 receiving, 250-1,400-16 rushing)

2002 Musa Smith

275 touches, 1,431 yards, 8 touchdowns

(15-107-0 receiving, 260-1,324-9 rushing)

1997 Robert Edwards

188 touches, 1,122 yards, 13 touchdowns

(23-214-1 receiving, 165-908-12 rushing)

Clemson Great Travis Etienne elite seasons

2018 Clemson Travis Etienne, 15 games

216 touches, 1,736 yards, 26 touchdowns

(12-78-2 receiving, 204-1658-24 rushing)

2019 Clemson Travis Etienne, 15 games

244 touches, 2,046 yards, 23 touchdowns

(37-432-4 receiving, 207-1614-19 rushing

Recent elite all-around UGA backs:

2022 Kenny McIntosh

184 touches, 1,278 yards, 12 touchdowns

(42-505-2 receiving, 142-779-10 rushing)

2021 James Cook

140 touches, 1,012 yards, 11 touchdowns

(27-284-4 receiving, 113-728, 7 rushing)

2021 Zamir White

169 touches, 931 yards, 11 touchdowns

(9-75-0 receiving, 160-856-11 rushing)

2020 Zamir White

150 touches, 806 yards, 11 touchdowns

( 6-37-0 receiving, 144-779-11 rushing)

2019 D’Andre Swift

220 touches, 1,434 yards, 8 touchdowns

(24-216-1 receiving, 196-1,218-7 rushing)

2018 D’Andre Swift

195 touches, 1,346 yards, 13 touchdowns)

(32-297-3 receiving, 163-1049-10 rushing)

2017 Nick Chubb

227 touches, 1,375 yards, 15 touchdowns

(4-30-0 receiving, 223-1,345-15

2017 Sony Michel

165 touches, 1,323 yards, 17 touchdowns

(9-96-1 receiving, 156-1227-16 rushing)

2016 Nick Chubb

229 touches, 1,216 yards, 9 touchdowns

(5-86-1 receiving, 224-1,130-8 rushing)

2016 Sony Michel

174 touches, 989 yards, 5 touchdowns

(22-149-1 receiving, 152-840-4 rushing)

2015 Sony Michel

245 touches, 1,431 yards, 11 touchdowns

(26-270-3 receiving, 219-1,161-8 rushing)

2014 Nick Chubb

237 touches, 1,760 yards, 16 touchdowns

(18-213-2 receiving, 219-1,547-14 rushing

2013 Todd Gurley

202 touches, 1,430 yards, 16 touchdowns

(37-441-6 receiving, 165-989-10 rushing)

2012 Todd Gurley

238 touches, 1502 yards, 17 touchdowns

(16-117-0 receiving, 222-1,385-17 rushing)