Florida's arrests under Meyer garnering attention

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Former Florida offensive lineman Drew Miller remembers all the team meetings, the lengthy lectures about hanging out with the right people, making smart decisions and avoiding situations that would draw negative attention.

To Miller, it seemed like Gators coach Urban Meyer or one of his assistants was always talking about staying out of trouble.

Miller also knew that message wouldn't reach all his teammates.

"It's not going to get to everyone," said Miller, who graduated last year and is trying to catch on in the NFL. "There's so many players. You can't baby-sit them all. There's too many guys to keep them all out of trouble. Someone's going to screw up."

That's certainly been the case at Florida, where there have been 24 arrests involving Gators over the last four years under Meyer.

Although the number of Florida players arrested is similar to that of its rivals, the Gators are getting attention because they have won two national titles in the last three years and have a coach who emphasizes good behavior.

Meyer points out that college students often make mistakes and that the majority of the charges have been misdemeanors.

"This group of players we have now are by and large a pretty good group," Meyer said in a statement. "Like most young people, they are trying to find their way.

"It is a continual part of our program to mentor and guide our players, and it is not an exact process. Although we have been very successful with most, we are by no means perfect. We are disappointed when we encounter some issues along the way, but we are going to continue to educate and teach our players."

The latest issue involved cornerback Janoris Jenkins, one of the team's top defenders. He was charged with misdemeanor affray and resisting arrest without violence after his alleged involvement in a fight outside a Gainesville nightclub.

According to police, Jenkins hit a man in the head on May 30 and threw another punch after officers ordered him and others to stop fighting. An officer then shot Jenkins with a Taser stun gun. Jenkins attempted to run, but was caught about a block away.

Jenkins' attorney, Huntley Johnson, said his client acted in self-defense against someone trying to steal his necklace and that the charges could be dismissed.

Even though Jenkins and walk-on running back Marquis Hannah, charged with unarmed burglary -- a second-degree felony -- are the only current players with pending criminal cases, the recent arrests provided Internet message boards with plenty of fodder. Some even called the school "The University of Felons."

"No one here condones our players stepping out of line, and everyone here wants to get better," athletic director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. "However, Urban Meyer and his staff are the best that I have seen in modifying behavior, and at the end of the day, the majority of the players who come through this program will make us all proud and not just because they are good football players."

Florida's opponents have also had their problems.

Florida State's football program has dealt with 13 arrests over the same four-year period, according to research by The Gainesville Sun, while Tennessee has had 21 arrests and Georgia 30.

Although Meyer has been known to give players a chance to redeem themselves, he has cut ties to those who repeatedly find trouble.

Meyer kicked offensive lineman Ronnie Wilson, safety Jamar Hornsby and cornerback Jacques Rickerson off the team after giving them multiple chances.

Wilson was arrested three times in a year and a half, the first time for punching and spitting on a man outside a Gainesville nightclub in April 2007 and then taking an AK-47 assault rifle out of the trunk of a car and firing it into the air.

Wilson pleaded no contest to charges of misdemeanor battery and discharging a firearm, received two years of probation and was required to perform community service and undergo a mental health evaluation. Meyer suspended him indefinitely. Wilson was arrested again in January 2008 on marijuana possession charges. The charges were eventually dropped, and Meyer allowed Wilson back on the team last August. But two months later, Wilson was arrested on misdemeanor battery and assault charges for allegedly hitting two people during a late-night birthday party. The case is pending.

Hornsby, who was charged with misdemeanor property damage and criminal mischief in April 2007 for allegedly throwing a man onto the hood of a car during a fight, was dismissed from the team after he allegedly stole a credit card from a teammate's girlfriend following her death and used it 70 times during a seven-month span. The charges were reduced to misdemeanors, and Hornsby accepted a plea deal.

Rickerson, who was suspended for the 2007 season opener following a possession of marijuana charge, was booted last November after police said he slapped his girlfriend, choked her and then covered her face with a pillow. The felony domestic violence charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, the court withheld adjudication and Rickerson was placed on two year's probation.

Florida maintains that Meyer was trying to help those players turn their lives around.

"Anyone who can't see his desire to influence young men positively and make them better citizens has no idea who he is as a coach and a human being," Foley said. "It is really easy to focus on negative issues and negative press. This is part of the world we live in and we understand this."

Although Meyer rarely reveals punishment for players, Miller said the penalties can be stiff. He said players get all sorts of privileges revoked and have to do extra early morning workouts.

"You're not going to want to go out at night when you're getting killed at 6 a.m.," Miller said. "There are some guys who make mistakes and bounce back and come back a completely different person. There are others who keep getting into trouble and end up getting funneled out of the program.

"Kids are going to do what they want to do. It's college. He wants you to go have fun when it's time to have fun. But you also have to be smart about it. Obviously, you're never supposed to do anything stupid."