WORCESTER, Mass. — One of the great things about getting out and about and doing these Next Generation stories is meeting and getting to know on some level the parents of these young men who are coming to Georgia to become Bulldogs. Some of these players live at home with both parents, some of them come from one-parent homes and some live with neither parent but are raised by other family members or an adopted family.
What all of these kids coming to Georgia have in common, however, is they are leaving behind a group of people who love them dearly and are incredibly proud of their accomplishments and opportunities and believe in them completely. And they also worry for them.
Today, I’m in Central Massachusetts, the farthest up the East Coast I’ve ever traveled. But it’s no different here than everywhere else I’ve been. I’m here to profile offensive lineman Tyler Catalina, but in the process I have also met his mother, Kim Catalina, his older brother by 18 months, Tony Catalina, and his personal trainer of the last four years, Sean Smith. Tyler’s father, Anthony Catalina, is away working in Cape Cod all week, but I’ll talk to him later by phone. I also spoke by phone to Tyler’s former prep school coach, Todd Marble.
What I encountered is an extremely excited and slightly anxious circle of people. They’re very grateful for the opportunity that awaits Tyler at Georgia. He’s traveling 1,001 miles south to play football in the SEC in the hopes of earning an NFL shot. They’re all hopeful he gets that opportunity and believe wholeheartedly that he will. At the very least, though, they pray that he doesn’t get hurt, that he doesn’t run into any trouble and that he obtains a graduate degree.
I didn’t get to do a Next Generation story on Chauncey Rivers last year. So I didn’t get to meet his parents and I don’t know what his home life was like. But I was told recently by someone close to the situation that Rivers comes from “a great family. Very supportive.”
So know this: There’s a group of people in Stone Mountain and within the Stephenson High community whose hearts are broken about the events that played out over the last few months in Athens. After another encounter with police and marijuana in Doraville last week — Rivers’ third in the last seven months — he was dismissed from Georgia by head coach Kirby Smart. It was the school’s written policy, so there was no other choice.
Rivers clearly has a problem and he needs help, and that’s the bottom line. Seeing his situation unfold, I was reminded of similar ones I’ve witnessed over the years with Josh Harvey-Clemons at UGA, with Maty Mauk at Missouri and with Stephen Garcia at South Carolina. They all were exceptional football players whose issues with substance abuse negatively impacted their football careers.
Regarding Rivers, I’ve seen the smart-aleck comments from fans saying “good riddance, idiot,” and “how long before he lands at Auburn?” Maybe it’s because I have children of my own or because I’ve been out in the field meeting all these parents in recent weeks, but such comments are hurtful even to me.
The one and only reaction to this situation should be the hope that Rivers gets his issue straightened out and that he get his career back on track, whether it be at Auburn or Georgia Tech or all the way across the country at Southern Cal.
There’s a group of loved ones somewhere praying for it, of that you can be certain.