Richard LeCounte plans to play for Bulldogs again — if possible

Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte holds his shoulder during the first half against Auburn, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Athens. (Brynn Anderson/AP)
Georgia defensive back Richard LeCounte holds his shoulder during the first half against Auburn, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, in Athens. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

Credit: Brynn Anderson

Credit: Brynn Anderson

ATHENS — While dozens of college football players are choosing to opt out, Georgia’s Richard LeCounte plans to opt back in.

If at all possible.

That’s according to the mother of the Bulldogs’ star safety, who said LeCounte is recovering rapidly from injuries sustained in a Halloween night motorcycle crash and wants to make a comeback.

In a message exchange with the AJC, Erika LeCounte said her son’s ultimate goal is to play for the Bulldogs again this season.

“Our son is recovering amazingly well,” Mrs. LeCounte said. “He never complains. He is in physical therapy and is doing well. … His immediate goal is to return to the football field this season!”

Erika LeCounte said Richard was running in a pool late last week and that his shoulder is no longer hurting, or at least that he’s not complaining about it anymore. He remains in concussion-recovery protocol, which calls for a strict sleeping and eating regimen. All the while, his physical therapy is gradually increasing in intensity.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart remains slightly less optimistic.

“We’re hopeful,” Smart said last week. “… It’s more when he heals right now. He’s getting more exercise now; he’s able to do some things on the bike. He’s still got some open wounds, so he’s not able to get up and train."

Smart said LeCounte attends practices and meetings and still enjoys being around the team. "But whether or not he makes it back depends on how long the season goes.”

CBS sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl said during the Florida telecast on Nov. 7 that LeCounte told her in a text exchange that he would be out “four to five weeks.” Smart said he has been given no specific timeline by sports medicine director Ron Courson.

That pushes any return for LeCounte into December. The Bulldogs play what was supposed to be their regular-season finale against Vanderbilt on Dec. 5 at Sanford Stadium. But due to last week’s postponement, Georgia could still play Missouri in Columbia, Mo., later in the month. That and other games also could be pushed, depending on further COVID-19 infections and contact tracing.

This much is clear: The Bulldogs definitely could use LeCounte. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound senior safety was considered an All-America candidate this season and was playing like it before the accident. Even after missing the last game, LeCounte remains fourth on the team in tackles with 26 and is tied for the lead in interceptions (3) and pass breakups (4).

Georgia was fortunate to have LeCounte on the roster to start this season. The former 5-star recruiting prospect has always drawn high marks from NFL scouts. Back in May, CBS Sports’ draft analyst Chris Trapasso labeled LeCounte the “premier safety prospect” for the 2021 NFL class. At the same time, the Sporting News placed him No. 12 on their list of Top 50 draft prospects.

So LeCounte has the next level to think about. The biggest issue for him at this point is one foot, which remains swollen, requires him to wear a boot and use a crutch when not in physical therapy. But that is rapidly improving as well.

“He has to be reminded about leaning on a crutch to keep the weight off of it, or just keep the boot on,” Erika LeCounte said.

All this is, of course, incredibly good news considering what happened to LeCounte on Oct. 31. Just hours after the Bulldogs returned to Athens from Lexington and a 14-3 win over Kentucky, the senior from Riceboro had to lay down the off-road motorcycle he was driving at dusk when a car turned left in front of him on Macon Highway. LeCounte was wearing a helmet when he collided with that vehicle and then another coming behind it.

LeCounte came to rest unconscious on the double-yellow line in the middle of the road, police said. He was transported by ambulance to Piedmont Athens Regional Hospital. He was discharged after three days, the first two of which were spent in intensive care.

“One thing that I have noticed about our son that this accident has changed is definitely that he is more serious,” LeCounte’s mother told the AJC. “Like, that is a little strange for us, because he jokes – a lot! I attribute that to this near-death experience, him becoming more serious about his life goals. And, yes, his career in football.”

In Other News