KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Three freshmen Tennessee football players, including highly touted wide receiver recruit Nu'Keese Richardson and starting safety Janzen Jackson, were charged with attempted armed robbery Thursday morning.
Richardson, 18, and Jackson, 18, along with defensive back Mike Edwards, 18, and companion Marie Montmarquet, 22, were each charged with three counts of attempted armed robbery in connection with an incident at a gas station in an area known as "The Strip" at the edge of Tennessee's campus.
Richardson was being held Thursday afternoon on a $19,500 bond. Edwards was released on a $19,500 bond and Jackson was released on his own recognizance.
"Mr. Jackson vehemently asserts his innocence, and we hope that this will become apparent in the next 24 to 48 hours," Jackson's attorney Don Bosch said in a statement. It was not immediately known if Richardson and Edwards had attorneys.
The three players are the first arrested during the tenure of first-year coach Lane Kiffin, who on Thursday said he would not make any comment on the situation until he knew more. Kiffin's predecessor, Phillip Fulmer, was often criticized for being too lax on a number of his players who had discipline problems.
"We're gathering all the information so we don't know exactly what happened. Unfortunately there was an incident. We made it 11 months and 11 days without (any incidents). We'll deal with the information as it comes in," Kiffin said.
Kiffin also declined to say if he had spoken with any of the players or what kind of discipline they might be facing. He also refused to comment on how the incident would affect the Volunteers as they prepare to travel to Mississippi on Saturday.
The three victims told police they were sitting in their parked vehicle just before 2 a.m. Thursday at a gas station near Tennessee's campus when two males dressed in hooded jackets, one brandishing a handgun, approached and demanded, "Give us everything you've got."
"The victims stated that they all presented their wallets to the suspects and showed them that they did not have money," the police report said. "The victims stated that a third black male then approached and told the other two black males, 'We've got to go."
The three suspects were seen leaving in a Toyota Prius, and police pulled over a vehicle matching the description nearby. Police spotted a pellet gun and hooded jackets and later found drug paraphernalia and a bag of what appeared to be marijuana.
Police say Montmarquet told them the drug paraphernalia and substance belonged to her and she was charged with simple possession.
The victims identified Richardson and Edwards as the men who approached their vehicle.
The incident happened at a gas station operated by Pilot, a company founded by former Tennessee football player and longtime booster Jim Haslam. Tennessee's outdoor football practice field is named Haslam Field in his honor.
Richardson, a highly touted recruit from Pahokee, Fla., originally committed to Florida but switched to Tennessee after being recruited by coach Lane Kiffin. Kiffin joked in a February recruiting celebration that Florida coach Urban Meyer cheated in trying to keep Richardson as a Gator, earning Kiffin a reprimand from the Southeastern Conference.
Richardson had told Kiffin recently he was frustrated with his lack of production but scored his first touchdown in a 56-28 win over Memphis on Saturday. He's had six catches this season for 58 yards and served as a punt return specialist.
Edwards, a Cleveland, Ohio, native has played in eight games this season and registered five tackles.
Jackson, a Lake Charles, La., native, has started seven games this season, logging 33 tackles and a forced fumble. He was suspended for the Memphis game, a week after he was named SEC freshman of the week for a strong performance against South Carolina.
Neither Jackson nor Kiffin would say why he was suspended, but Jackson said after Wednesday afternoon's practice that losing playing time would discourage him from making poor decisions off the playing field.
"It kind of felt like being injured and watching your team play ... it kind of had the same feeling, but to know it was my fault, so it kind of feels a little bit worse," Jackson said. "It's in the past now, and I'm back to work."