Despite firing an AK-47, UF's Wilson allowed back on the team (cont.)
Knowing Meyer, the thought was not "I need this guy to win," though if Wilson didn't physically resemble a defensive tackle, he might not have gotten another chance. No, Meyer pondered carefully a decision he knew would get him blasted in the media. More than likely, as he deliberated, he thought about Marty Johnson and Avery Atkins.
Shortly after Meyer arrived at Utah in 2003, Johnson, a Utes tailback was removed from his car by police at gunpoint after he crashed over a curb with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit. Eleven months earlier, before Meyer came to Utah, Johnson was charged with DUI after a hit-and-run. Johnson, speaking by phone on Sunday, said Meyer's first words to him after the second crash were "You're gone."
But Meyer went home and discussed Johnson's situation with his wife, Shelley. She asked a question: "What if, the next time Johnson drink and drove -- and he would certainly do it again if he didn't change his life -- he crashed into someone and killed them?" Meyer pondered the question, and he decided that instead of casting Johnson out, he would pull the troubled back into a bear hug. During Johnson's 35-day jail sentence, Meyer visited. Meyer's children wrote letters to Johnson.
Today, Johnson is a Utah graduate working for an engineering firm in Sacramento, Calif. Johnson wouldn't have the job if he didn't have the degree, and he might not have the degree had Meyer not made it a condition of his return to the team. Johnson still talks to the Meyers -- Shelley called him last Tuesday -- and he thanks them often for rescuing him. "I really don't think I would have changed anything I was doing," Johnson said. "I probably would have gone down the same path. ... It's kind of scary to think about what would have happened."
Though he never has admitted it publicly, Meyer probably thinks all the time about what might have happened, because it happened to Atkins. In March 2006, Atkins looked ready to win a starting cornerback job as a sophomore. Despite his on-field success, Atkins had problems with the mother of his young son. Atkins asked Meyer for a release from his scholarship so he could return home to Daytona Beach to deal with the issues. Meyer declined. When Atkins was arrested after his girlfriend accused him of hitting her, Meyer granted the release, in effect dismissing Atkins.
Atkins' life spiraled out of control. He washed out at Bethune-Cookman, and a series of subsequent arrests suggested he might have turned to selling drugs. On the morning of July 5, 2007, Atkins was found dead in his car. According to an autopsy, Atkins died of an overdose of MDMA, the active ingredient in Ecstasy.
Marty Johnson committed a heinous act. Meyer yanked him closer and may have saved his life, but not everyone wants to be saved. Avery Atkins committed a heinous act. Meyer booted him, and Atkins wound up dead. That wasn't Meyer's fault.
Ronnie Wilson committed a heinous act. Though it may seem intolerable to those of us who consider firing an AK-47 to scare the person you've just punched and spit on to be a whopper of a mistake, Meyer made his choice. And Wilson, who now goes by Ron in the same way that Pacman Jones now goes by Adam, is grateful for the chance. By all accounts, Wilson intends to embrace the opportunity, even if he never earns his way back to the field.
"I'm sorry that I caused so much embarrassment for my family, the school and the football program," Wilson said in a statement released by the athletic department. "I'm thankful for the opportunity to be out here. It was very difficult being away from the school and the football team that I care so much about."
Unlike some of his colleagues, Meyer won't get second-guessed. Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley has said he trusts Meyer's judgment in such matters. That means we won't see a situation like the one at Penn State, where two players recently got the boot not after they pleaded guilty to misdemeanors for their roles in earlier fights, but because they committed the most recent infractions before ESPN aired a scathing report on the Nittany Lions' off-field troubles.
Meanwhile, folks at Oklahoma seemed fine with letting freshman receiver Josh Jarboe come to school even after he was arrested at his Georgia high school in March and accused of bringing a stolen gun onto school grounds. But they couldn't stand idly by while Jarboe busted an obscene freestyle rap in a clip posted on YouTube. That's OK, though, the Sooners signed offensive lineman Jarvis Jones. Why was Jones available? Because LSU booted him for violating team rules.
The Gators probably aren't any worse than some of the nation's other elite programs, but they aren't any better, either. Hopefully, Meyer has retired the phrase that won him so many rounds of applause from the alumni. His Gators are just like any group of people tossed together by fate and circumstance. Most are solid citizens. A few choose to flout society's rules.
But they aren't the top one percent of one percent -- and they can't be as long as they hope to reach No. 1.