Like many college football stars, Josh Harvey-Clemons' career as a Georgia Bulldog began in dramatic fashion. Even after a national signing day television announcement, the 5-star prospect (per 247Sports) seemed undecided about his future. His letter of intent didn't arrive at Georgia's athletic office until the following morning.
Resigned primarily to special teams duty as a true freshman in 2012, Harvey-Clemons seemed content to once again keep Georgia fans waiting until he broke out in 2013 by posting 65 tackles, forcing two fumbles and intercepting one pass in 11 starts. The game-changing playmaker that so many anxiously anticipated had arrived.
And now he's gone.
With far less fanfare than that with which he had entered, Harvey-Clemons was dismissed from Georgia's team on Tuesday with nothing more than a brief statement and announcement on the Dawgs' official website:
University of Georgia junior defensive back Josh Harvey-Clemons has been dismissed from the team for violation of rules according to an announcement Tuesday from UGA head coach Mark Richt. Harvey-Clemons played in 25 games during his career including 11 starts.
The cause of the dismissal remains recognizably vague, but Harvey-Clemons had veered from the straight and narrow twice before. In 2013, he was suspended for the season opener for a violation of the university's student-athlete drug policy. A second such violation led to him missing the Gator Bowl in January and his suspension was slated to carry over to the first three games of the 2014 season.
Now, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and the rest of the Bulldogs are left with the daunting task of replacing their best defensive player.
In just 11 games as a starter, Harvey-Clemons was at times the lone bright spot in Georgia's defensive secondary. Like the rest of the unit, he had much left to learn but his unique blend of size (6'5") and athleticism made him a force in stopping the run and interrupting passing lanes.
From a statistical standpoint, Harvey-Clemons was solid in every phase of the game. He registered a 5.5 tackles for loss from his safety spot (first on the team among defensive backs) and played well against the run. He broke up five passes downfield (second among Bulldog defensive backs) and had a knack for swarming the football.
He was a consistent performer—notching five or more tackles in eight games last season. And he proved to be the most opportunistic player on Georgia's defense by accounting for four total turnovers (one interception, three fumble recoveries).
|Georgia Turnover Responsibility|
|Player||Interceptions||Fumble Recoveries||Total Turnovers|
And yet those closest to Harvey-Clemons, believed he was only scratching the surface. In November, former Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham told David Paschall of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. "I'm really proud of what Josh has done. He's a hard worker. He's competitive. He cares about our program, and he cares about playing the way you want him to play." Grantham added, "The arrow is up for him as a player. He is going to continue to excel."
Continued advancement by Harvey-Clemons would have rendered him one of the most feared defensive players in the SEC. Instead, those strides have stalled.
In a broader sense, Josh Harvey-Clemons may continue his improvement but it won't be as a Georgia Bulldog. In the wake of his departure, the Bulldogs coaching staff is left scrambling to find a replacement at strong safety to play alongside returning free safety Tray Matthews.
There is no obvious choice for the vacancy because no player on Georgia's roster boasts the experience, athleticism, size and potential of Josh Harvey-Clemons.
|Josh Harvey-Clemons Compared to Georgia's Returning Safeties|
|Player||Years of Experience||Total Tackles||Interceptions|
Corey Moore has seen action at the safety position primarily when filling in for Harvey-Clemons and Matthews (in addition to his suspension, both Harvey-Clemons and Matthews battled injuries in 2013). In three seasons, however, Moore has started just six games and recorded a total of 50 tackles. He's the logical choice to step up as a rising senior, but has yet to show the consistent playmaking ability which defined Harvey-Clemons.
Quincy Mauger contributed as a true freshman in 2013 and should also experience a bump in playing time, but the drop off from Harvey-Clemons is decisive. At 6'0", Mauger must improve from a technical standpoint to be effective on the field. He is not as physically advantaged as Harvey-Clemons and therefore will not be afforded the luxury of occasional missteps.
After Moore and Mauger, the clarity fades. Devin Gillespie and Lucas Redd are both listed as safeties on the team's official roster; neither has played in a game to date. Recent signees Dominick Sanders, Shaquille Jones and Shattle Fenteng could get looks at the safety position, but all three will be several steps behind the few established veterans and they were recruited to provide depth at the cornerback position.
Challenges Lie Ahead
Josh Harvey-Clemons was poised to lead the Georgia defense in 2014. Now, instead of pressing forward under a new coaching regime, the Bulldogs must come to grips with three harsh realities.
First and foremost, the promising potential of Josh Harvey-Clemons will never be realized in Athens, Ga. That in and of itself is a difficult pill to swallow.
Secondly, and more tangibly, a lesser player will take the field in Harvey-Clemons' stead in 2014. With no disrespect to Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger, Josh Harvey-Clemons started, and starred, because he was the best safety on the team.
Finally, Georgia is left completely devoid of proven depth at the safety positions. Either Moore or Mauger will get the starting nod at strong safety leaving one experienced veteran to backup both safety spots. That's a bleak proposition seeing as Matthews missed five games due to injury as a freshman in 2013.
While further details have not been released regarding the cause for Josh Harvey-Clemons' dismissal, it appears he missed his proverbial wake-up call.
Jeremy Pruitt and company can ill-afford to miss theirs.