ATHENS ― The status of Georgia starting inside linebacker Natrez Patrick for the College Football Playoff remains uncertain, with coach Kirby Smart not clarifying whether Patrick will play in the Rose Bowl, and the player’s lawyer arguing that Patrick should remain on the team.
Speaking as he began his news conference on Monday, Smart said the status of Patrick will be dealt with “internally,” using the same language Smart has used in similar matters.
Patrick and teammate Jayson Stanley were arrested during a traffic stop on Dec. 2 in which Barrow County, Ga., officers smelled the odor of marijuana on each player, according to the arrest report released two days after the arrest. Charges against Patrick were dropped on Thursday.
“Under university and athletic association policies, both those guys remain part of the team and eligible to practice. And as we always talk about disciplinary matters, they’re handled internally,” Smart said, adding: “So we make disciplinary decisions based on our policies.”
That alludes to the UGA student-athlete drug policy, which calls for a player’s dismissal after a third drug policy. Patrick would have hit his third strike, but the team and the school are apparently still sorting through things.
It appeared Patrick was set to play in the Rose Bowl, having been cleared of the marijuana charge in Barrow County, until news came out that a subsequent probation drug test in Athens-Clarke County had turned up positive.
Patrick has a hearing on Jan. 11 to deal with an alleged probation violation because of the drug test that resulted in Athens-Clarke County from the Barrow County arrest.
“The Athens-Clarke County situation with Natrez is a separate matter, and we’ll address it according to our policy once it’s resolved,” Smart said on Monday.
Billy Healan, who is Patrick’s lawyer, issued a news release Monday reiterating that Patrick passed a UGA drug test the night of the Barrow County arrest. He included what he identified as drug-test results in his release, and he said that any subsequent probation test in Athens-Clarke County should be confidential.
“There will be a hearing in January during which any issues will be addressed, if we are not able to reach a negotiated resolution beforehand,” Healan wrote.
Healan also maintained that the probation test should not apply for UGA’s own drug policy.
“A probation violation is not a violation of the UGA Athletic Association Substance Abuse Policy. This is true under the previous policy and under the policy enacted on September 1, 2017. As the University of Georgia Athletic Association is required to follow this policy, Natrez Patrick should remain a member of the University of Georgia football team.”
There was no immediate response from UGA officials when asked if Healan’s assertion was accurate.
Smart added that a revision to the policy in September that he said “had no impact whatsoever on the situation.” The revisions were relatively minor and did not change the penalty structure for drug violations.
“We’re following our policy without any exceptions, and without regard to the players involved or where we are in the season,” Smart said.
Smart, asked later about Patrick, said he wasn’t allowed to say much because of confidentiality reasons.
Patrick has incurred two previous violations, the second of which led to a four-game suspension midway through this season.
Patrick is normally a starting inside linebacker, working next to All-American Roquan Smith. When Patrick served his suspension earlier this season, his spot was taken first by junior Juwan Taylor (for one game), freshman Monty Rice (for the next game) and then senior Reggie Carter (the next two games.) Carter would seem the clear starter for the Rose Bowl in the event Patrick does not play.
Patrick started seven games this season, coming off the bench his first two games back from suspension, then reclaiming the starting job.