Kirby Smart: Fast cars and college football players a growing issue

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks to members of the media before their first day of spring football practice at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks to members of the media before their first day of spring football practice at the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall, Tuesday, March 12, 2024, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz /

ATHENS — Georgia running back Trevor Etienne was driving a $140,000 Audi RS7 when he was pulled over at 1:50 a.m. Sunday for driving more than 80 mph on a two-lane road after a night of alleged drinking in downtown Athens.

The Audi RS7 is described as by Car and Driver magazine as a midsize high-performance sedan with a hatchback-style trunk that is powered by a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine and can accelerate from 0-to-60 mph in 3.3 seconds. It retails between $131,000-$151,000 depending on options.

Former Bulldog Jalen Carter was driving a 2021 Jeep Trackhawk with a 707-horsepower, V8 “Hellcat” engine that retails for $105,000 when police say he was racing on Barnett Shoals Road in the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 2023. UGA staffer Chandler LeCroy and teammate Devin Willock, the driver and the occupant, respectively, of the car police say Carter was racing, died in a crash while driving 100 mph trying to keep up with Carter and his Trackhawk.

Six weeks ago, Georgia quarterback Carson Beck acquired a 2024 Lamborghini UROS Performante that retails for about $300,000 and can go 0-to-60 mph in 3.1 seconds. In previous years, the car of choice among Bulldogs was a Dodge Challenger Hellcat SRT. It takes slightly longer -- 3.7 seconds – to get up to 60.

Welcome to the world of big-time college football in the age of name, image and likeness. Showered with money and endorsement opportunities, the best players on the best teams can earn as much or more than their position coaches through NIL and the collectives that raise money for that purpose.

The U.S. Supreme Court afforded these athletes that right. What is out of the government’s control – and apparently, the control of the University of Georgia – is how 17-to-23-year-old males react to accessing such high-performance vehicles.

“We’ve done studies and looked at it,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said Tuesday. “We have more kids with vehicles than we probably ever have. I can’t really say as far as the style of vehicles, but you could probably make the easy assumption that with more money they have the opportunity to have nicer cars. But just the number of players with vehicles is higher. That’s not any excuse for the ability to speed. It just means that we have more opportunities to have traffic citations, which we don’t want.”

At UGA, there has been an obvious rise over the past two years in excessive-speeding incidents as well as drinking and driving offenses. Including the DUI conviction of former safety Javon Bullard from an incident that occurred in September 2022, Georgia players are known to have been arrested 18 times for offenses involving excessive speeding and/or alcohol or drug consumption while behind the wheel of a vehicle.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Bulldogs are 42-2 with two national championships during that same span. Success on the field has led to more endorsement opportunities for players off the field. In turn, that appears to have created more opportunities to find trouble.

While data is not immediately available on other schools, it’s not a problem unique to Georgia, particularly within the SEC. Alabama freshman Tony Mitchell was accused of driving 141 mph to evade police who found a half-pound of marijuana in his vehicle after apprehending him. A Tennessee defensive lineman was arrested in December for speeding and driving on a suspended license.

At Clemson, defensive tackle DeMonte Capehart was arrested Feb. 6 on a weapons and traffic charges. Two weeks later, wide receiver Noble Johnson was arrested and charged with reckless driving after his involvement in a car accident that sent three individuals involved to the hospital.

At the end of last month, former Clemson football players Frederick Davis II and Malcolm Greene settled a lawsuit against them for allegedly racing their vehicles up to 115 mph and crashing into the truck of a mail carrier, who remarkably survived but suffered permanent injuries. Terms of that settlement were unknown.

College coaches everywhere are discussing the growing problem and how to deal with it.

“I think everybody in the country shares ideas,” Smart said. “We talked about it at the SEC meetings. We talk about it all the time across the country when I meet with other staffs. … ‘What do you do off the field?’ I think that’s one of the areas we’ve really tried to target, and I think we do it better than anybody in the country. I can only speak for my university, but I think we do it better than anybody in the country as far as education, speakers.”

Georgia offensive tackle Earnest Greene III acknowledged that Georgia players hear all the time about the dangers of fast-driving, drug use and DUI.

“Most definitely,” said Greene, a sophomore from Los Angeles. “We’ve talked to the police department, they’ve come in and talked to us. (Athletic director) Josh Brooks has also talked to us. Coach Smart (talks to us) about what to do and not do and the decisions to not make. So, it’s on us to retain that information and apply it to our lives.”

DUI in particular subjects UGA athletes to an intense medical assessment and rehabilitation process. Offenders must undergo drug and alcohol evaluations, substance-abuse counseling and will be asked to sign a written contract with counselors acknowledging the violation and consequences, according to UGA’s substance-abuse policy.

That does not include the football program’s punitive measures. In addition to a suspension from competition, those measures include what players refer to as “sunrise services.” For a prescribed period of time they must report regularly to the football facility in predawn hours to be subjected to running and other physical activity under the supervision of strength-and-conditioning specialists.

“In addition to our university discipline process, we’ve got all the stuff we deal with inside house,” Smart said Tuesday. “(Etienne will) be subjected under the same rules we have in-house as well as the university discipline. So, disappointed in his decision-making, but he is a good kid. He’ll learn from this.”