'); } -->
ATHENS Cracking into the starting lineup always seemed to be a foregone conclusion for Alec Ogletree.
The true freshman has the size, speed, ball skills and big-hitting swagger coaches covet in a safety. He was the highest rated recruit in Georgias 2010 incoming class, so he was expected to contribute early.
But he had some growing to do first, on and off the field, before he heard his name called in the starting lineup.
Ogletree was arrested in early September for theft by taking after another student-athlete reported a $35 scooter helmet had been stolen.
The matter has since, been taken care, according to Ogletree, and while the full details have not surfaced, teammates say there was no intent to actually break the law.
Still, the whole ordeal sent Ogletree to jail for the first time in his life and he was suspended for the season opener. The whole mess left him embarrassed and ashamed, he says. But through those feelings, the kid everyone calls Tree was growing as a person.
I think that experience would help anybody learn, sophomore safety Bacarri Rambo said. Anybody will try to stay out of trouble after being suspended for one game. He let the team down. He let his family down. He let himself down. Youll learn from something like that. You wont let that happen anymore.
The incident was a small blight in the overall big picture, Rambo said. But Ogletrees arrest was, at the time, the ninth such incident for the Bulldogs since January. The mistake my not have been the most terrible deed ever committed by a player at Georgia, but Ogletree paid a severe price in the realm of public perception.
It just shocked me, linebacker Christian Robinson said. The way things unfolded, I told him I wished he would have handled it a little bit better. That was me being an older guy talking to a younger guy. It just didnt go down how it should have. He should have done things the right way and he knows that. Hes definitely matured from that. I wish it hadnt gone down that way, but its been a learning experience.
Learning from what happened, Ogletree realized he had to collect himself and leave nothing to question in the future, he said.
Yeah, you just have to be aware of your surroundings and act right, he said. I am much more off to myself now. I try to stay away from trouble now.
Meanwhile, on the football field, Ogletree was growing, too.
Physically, hes always been ready. He enrolled at 6-foot-3, 224-pounds as an 18-year-old. Decked out in full pads, he looks even more intimidating. The physical side of his game was never in question, not from the day he stepped on campus.
Physically, hes been able to do it all along, Robinson said. Hes been shocking people, hitting people hard in practice. People wonder where the walls are (around the practice field) to make sure he doesnt hit you out-of-bounds too far. He brings that punch. All those things come together.
Ogletree was so punishing, many thought hed move to linebacker before preseason practices even started. That was never going to happen, according to secondary coach Scott Lakatos, who wasnt going to let such a prize get out of his grasp.
Thats what a lot of people would assume, but he moves well enough to play safety right now, Lakatos said.
All the physical prowess aside, very rarely do freshman safeties break into the starting lineup. Theres too much to comprehend. Theres too much responsibility. Theres still too much growing left to do.
I just think he had to learn what he was supposed to do and learn how fast he was supposed to do it, Lakatos said. Thats probably the thing that holds up most young guys when theyre breaking into the lineup. You could see that he had a lot of natural ability. He just needed some direction; just learn the way the game is played at this level.
With an eye toward gaining more playing time, Ogletree went to work. He studied film. He prepared for practices. He made plays. When he got back from his suspension, he was immediately inserted into each special teams unit. Very quickly, Ogletree was blasting people, making huge blocks and tackles on the kicking unit.
When the opportunity comes I try to take it, he said. When I do make a big hit its an adrenaline rush. But when I do it, its time to go to the next play.
Hes a hunter, Robinson said. I heard a lot of people talking about him coming out of high school, so I wanted to check him out. I went to look at his film and he really hits people. When he hits you, youre not going anywhere. Hes fast, hes strong and hes about the same size as a linebacker playing safety back there.
By the midpoint of the season, Ogletree was playing a few series each game at safety, and he wasnt making many mistakes. He was growing.
I think hes got potential to be a great safety, Rambo said. Hes willing to learn and do great things to help out the secondary and the defense. Hes trying his best. Hes going to hustle to the ball. Hes going to fly to try to make plays happen.
Finally, in early November, five days before the Idaho State game, Ogletree got word from Lakatos in a matter-of-fact method that he was in position to start.
When we were coming in and going over the film to look at the team, coach Lakatos said, I want you to go with the first group, Ogletree said. I didnt jump up and down with joy and stuff. But I was very excited. I was happy to hear that.
He finished the game with three solo tackles, good enough for second-best on the team. Coach Mark Richt announced shortly after Ogletrees first start that he had graded out well enough to maintain his starting spot.
So the evidence of Ogletrees growth is currently on display, on-and-off the field. Hes learned from his mistakes and figures to be a mainstay in the starting lineup for years to come.
But for college football players, and people in general, the growing doesnt stop. Ogletree understands he has to keep getting better. His growth is far from completion.
Its really up to me whether I lose it or keep it, he said. Hopefully I keep working hard and have no injuries.
But at this point in time, there is no telling how much more growth is in store for a player, and person, who has already progressed so much.
I think he could be great, man. Hes got speed. Hes strong. Hes got all the physical attributes as a safety. If he just continues to learn and stays in the playbook and learn the scheme, hell be very dangerous. He could be an All-American.