ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt ended speculation over the statuses of Ken Malcome and Derek Owens when he announced on Wednesday that both players are leaving Georgia's football program.
Owens confirmed earlier in the week that he was leaving the Bulldogs, but Malcome became a subject of conjecture when the little-used running back did not participate in either of Georgia's last two practices.
"(Malcome) walked in my office just prior to practice and felt like he'd gotten so far behind in the competition at his position, he felt like he needed to go to another school and get a fresh start and maybe get a better opportunity to play," Richt said Wednesday evening after practice.
Owens said he plans to leave Athens on Thursday, will return home to Jacksonville, Fla., and plans to transfer to a new school in January.
The sophomore cornerback's plan earlier in the week was to transfer to Cincinnati, "but things didn't go as planned," he said.
Owens and Malcome are the fourth and fifth members of Georgia's 2010 recruiting class to leave the program -- four of whom have departed since the summer. Safety Jakar Hamilton left the program last week, following earlier departures by linebacker Demetre Baker and offensive lineman Brent Benedict.
Owens wouldn't comment on the circumstances surrounding his departure, saying, "There's things. ... I am not going to speak on it right now until I get home."
He leaves Georgia having made eight tackles and recovered one fumble in 15 career games. Owens appeared in the Bulldogs' first three games this year, but did not travel to Ole Miss last weekend.
Richt didn't shed any light on the specifics of either player's case, but when asked about Malcome's departure in particular, he said he could rejoin the team if he experiences a change of heart.
"If Ken came to me tomorrow and said, 'Coach I lost my mind. I'm sorry and I'd love to come back and compete here at Georgia,' " Richt said, "I'd hug his neck and say, 'Come on.' "
Malcome carried the ball once for no yards in a blowout win against Coastal Carolina and did not appear in another game this season. His coaches repeatedly have said Malcome possesses the talent to compete, but that repeated injuries pushed him down the depth chart behind Isaiah Crowell, Richard Samuel and Carlton Thomas.
Richt said it is not uncommon for young players to struggle against the higher caliber of competition when they arrive at college. Sometimes that causes them to consider a transfer and decide whether to seek a fresh start or to stay and battle for playing time.
Richt cited arguably the most successful player in his Georgia tenure as an example.
"I'll never forget David Pollack coming in my office as a freshman during camp and it was like, and I don't think he'll get mad at me saying this, but he was down and was like, 'I can't do anything right, Coach (Rodney) Garner's all over me and I think I might have made a mistake. I don't know if I can play here.' Pollack's the most decorated player in the history of Georgia football and he had those doubts, too. It's hard. It's hard to all of a sudden compete at a level that you just never had to."
The attrition among the 2010 signees -- a group collectively rated among the worst signing classes in Richt's tenure -- is not necessarily a bad thing. Baker and Benedict never played a down, Hamilton's playing time decreased significantly last year and he was to miss this season with an ankle injury and Owens and Malcome were both buried on the depth chart.
The departures mean Georgia will have the ability to sign the maximum 25 scholarship players when signing day arrives in February if it chooses.
"All it's gonna do is allow us to sign a full boat of recruits again, which will be a very positive thing if we bring in the right guys," Richt said.
David Ching covers the Georgia Bulldogs for DawgNation.