Tuesday, August 26, 2008

You Can't Hold a Drunk Like Britton Colquitt Down

You Can't Hold a Drunk Like Britton Colquitt Down
for Troublemakers Around the SEC

Tennessee Punter Britton Colquitt is probably drunk in this photo

Tennessee's game against Southern Mississippi snapped a very important streak in the hearts of Rocky Top Nation. It had been 71 games since the punting duties were handled by someone other than a member of the Colquitt family. Punting is very important at Tennessee, where scoring points is often viewed as not nearly as important as pinning the opposing offense at a very disadvantageous position. No team in the nation has been as prolific a punter as Tennessee in the previous almost-decade. In a game called "football", Tennessee has not forgotten about "the foot".

Dustin Colquitt was the 3rd round draft pick for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2005, older brother to Britton Colquitt, both of whom's father was a twice Super Bowl ring winning punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Britton took over punting for Tennessee, a family obligation of sorts, at the start of the 2005 season. There had already been trouble for the youth, however, and it would not end there.

As an incoming Freshman Colquitt was suspended from the team for a string of drunken disorderly situations, ranging from DUI to intoxicated brawls with women and children in restaurants. No one was safe from his short-lived reign of terror around Knoxville, Tennessee. The hometown hero-boy was ruining not only his future, but the now stately family image. Suspending him from the team, however, at the time, would not threaten "the streak", which had taken on a personality of sorts that loomed greater than even coach Fat Phil Fulmer's in the imagination of Rocky Top Nation. A Colquitt must punt, and as long as Dustin was available, Fulmer was free to discipline the younger Britton, which included the team sanctioning him and mandating that he complete his legally imposed sanctions and attend alcohol counseling.

The rumors never really subsided, though. Knoxville, Tennessee, is a very small place compared to a lot of sporting markets, and just because it's stadium can hold on the upwards of 108,000 fans doesn't mean that The Truth won't simmer below the surface of things, ready to explode in ways no one is quite ready for. On the outside it might have seemed to outsiders, and even some that thought they knew him best, that Britton Colquitt had tempered down his ways. The notoriously fun-loving and irresponsibly drinking Colquitt, who was expected to live up to his older brother's reputation as a "man about campus", lived a double life, hiding his activities from his loved ones and people who thought they knew him best.

Says Frank Gillespie, a former walk on at Oregon in 2005 as a place-kicker, "It's no secret. Punters and kickers drink at practice all the time. We get out on the practice field about 1:15, 1:30, almost an hour before anyone else, and by 4:00pm, we are usually taking vodka shots out of water bottles or tearing open a case of beer and tossing it in a cooler of ice. Anyone that's ever been to a practice has probably seen us doing that. In fact, I think that's probably where Kellen Clemens picked up the habit." Gillespie did not make the active roster and remained with Oregon's practice squad for one season.

Dinky McConnell, an independent college scout who once saw Colquitt play in a game in high school had this to add. "Coach Fulmer must have known for all this time that he had a problem with Britton Colquitt. We live in the modern age, and no secrets can be kept. It's become a joke around Knoxville to 'be as drunk as Britton Colquitt'. That's been for a couple years. So for Fulmer to act now, to a degree not even as severe as he has been towards other players, is beyond reprehensible." The very same week that Britton Colquitt's most recent drunken rage took place, two other Tennessee players had been dismissed from the team, linebacker Dorian Davis and defensive back Antonio Wardlow. Both are of African-American descent, and the vibe from many of the Tennessee faithful is that race and athletic performance determined the disparity of discipline. Reports that Jerod Mayo, former Tennessee linebacker and first round draft pick of the Patriots in this past April's draft, may have left the team because of unrest with the coaching staff have not been substantiated. Mayo had graduated in December and was not expected to return. Tennessee has been plagued by tension and racial issues before, notably during the 1998 and 2006 seasons. That it is Britton Colquitt's legendarily drunken and insanely idiotic behavior that is drawing the situation to a head may just be a matter of circumstance.

What is clear, however, is that Britton Colquitt is the current poster-boy for the baddest college football program in the land. Colquitt's arrest capped off a six-week team crime spree that had police and federal investigators reeling for months in Knoxville. First, Knoxville police cited freshmen wide receivers Gerald Jones and Ahmad Paige for possession of marijuana following a traffic stop near campus while the two hosted a recruit from Oklahoma on his official visit. Freshman offensive lineman William Brimfield who was with Paige and Jones at the time was not charged by police, but was disciplined by Fulmer nonetheless. Ten days later UT police arrested freshman tailback Daryl Vereen for public intoxication and underage consumption after responding to a call of a fight in progress outside Gibbs Hall, an on-campus residence hall located across the street from the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center. Less than a week later Knoxville police arrested junior All-SEC lineman Anthony Parker for disorderly conduct at an off-campus apartment complex. A quiet week and half took place before walk-on defensive back Vince Faison was arrested for DUI after UT police found the 27-year-old former professional baseball player passed out behind the wheel of his truck in the parking lot of an on-campus fast-food restaurant with the engine running and his foot on the brake pedal with the vehicle in gear. Then Fulmer dismissed sophomores Dorian Davis and Antonio Wardlow for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Both players had been arrested within the last year and a half. In the last 10 years two Coach Fulmer recruited players have gone on to kill people, Dwayne Goodrich and the celebrated Leonard Little. Others in Coach Fulmer's list of notably infamous players coached include Jamal Lewis, who served time in federal prison for his involvement in a drug deal. Travis Henry, who has fathered a minimum of nine children by nine different women and whose lawyer has said; "...doesn't have any money. The guy has significant financial issues". Albert Haynesworth was the talk of the NFL in 2006 when he viciously stomped on a Dallas player’s face during a game and almost killed him.

In general, the national perception of Tennessee has been solidified as a preeminent leader in off-the-field transgressions, rivaling even the current Cincinnati Bengals or the legendary Miami Hurricanes of the 1980's and 1990's. In the 1995 even Sports Illustrated advocated for the temporary suspension if not permanent termination of Miami's football program.

Coach Fulmer has been on the hot-seat off and on for a few years, and his most recent brush with unemployment came when he failed to sign highly sought after recruit Jimmy "The Kid With the Golden Arm" Clausen. There was speculation that Rick Clausen, Jimmy Clausen's older brother, played sparingly his senior year only because of ongoing negotiations with the Clausen family, and Fulmer came under intense fire when Jimmy Clausen ultimately decided on Notre Dame. Ironically, Jimmy Clausen has come under scrutiny for alcohol related off-field transgressions, and would have fit in perfectly in Fulmer's program.

So, during the evening of February 16 and early morning of February 17, 2008, as Britton Colquitt proceeded to get intoxicated far beyond the legal limit, little did he know the future of his Coach's career may be hanging in the balance, and ultimately, that his actions may have a direct and lasting effect in nearing the University of Tennessee to it's decision in replacing Fat Phil Fulmer. Knoxville police arrested Colquitt for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident after he struck a parked car, causing damage to parked cars, public spaces, and a tree stump. Upon being detained by police, Colquitt was so drunk that he could barely stand up and had apparently urinated on himself.

One of Colquitt's high school sweethearts, Becca, rose to his aide publicly after his arrest, stating, in part, " I...dated him in high school and have remained close with him since. He is a wonderful, kind, caring young man that any person would be privileged to know. He knows his mistakes, owned up to them and is making the changes that need to be made to better himself and everyone involved. He has accepted his consequences every time, this one included…even more so this time. He has a lot on him right now....Do you not think he gets it?…that he understands whats a stake here? Can you imagine the pressure he walks around with on a daily basis before this…then think about it now. Have you never made the same mistake more than once? I doubt it."

Coach Fulmer came under immediate fire for the Colquitt debacle and his subsequently soft punishment, and no one was more vocal than John Adams of KnoxNews.com in calling for Fulmer's immediate dismissal. Untold large amounts of donor money has stopped flowing into Tennessee's coffers, and the cupboard is already noticeably bare of up-coming blue-chip quarterback or skill player talent. How much longer can Coach Fulmer hold his tenuous grasp on his job?

Maybe exactly as long as Britton Colquitt can stay off the sauce, stop driving around, not beat up innocent people in restaurants, and commit as few felonies and misdemeanors as possible. In the end, it might be difficult for Colquitt to be remembered as a "coach killer" when the coach was killed by how many killers he has already coached.