Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe confirmed Thursday that two former Southeastern Conference starters looking for fresh starts have enrolled in school — Georgia running back Washaun Ealey and Ole Miss linebacker Clarence Jackson.
Both will be eligible this fall. Ealey will have two years remaining, Jackson three.
“Both these guys were exactly what we were looking for when we finished spring training,” Crowe said. “We wanted to go more with a two-back system and needed some experience to do that and we needed a high-caliber linebacker to add to the mix.
“When you get transfers, they need to fit at a position you need somebody and they need to be young enough to mold into your culture, and they need to be the type people who enjoy living in Jacksonville.”
Crowe in recent years has denounced the idea of taking what he has called mercenary players to fill needs; players looking to either recoup their reputations or finish their playing career with little or no loyalty to programs that sign them. He said he turned down calls from three undisclosed SEC schools with players seeking transfers because “they didn’t fit us.”
“They didn’t fit the position that would improve our football team and they didn’t have the background we thought they’d be a fit in the Jacksonville community,” Crowe sad. “These kids will be.”
Ealey’s arrival immediately boosts the Gamecocks’ running game. He rushed for 1,528 yards and 14 touchdowns in two seasons at Georgia, including a team-leading 811 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He ran for five touchdowns in a game at Kentucky — a team the Gamecocks play this season in October.
He will team with former Ole Miss back Tig Barksdale, but begin his JSU career at the top of the depth chart for having what Crowe called “playing equity.”
Powerful Calvin Middleton will become the Gamecocks’ fullback.
“We’re trying to put ourselves back in a championship mode, which we’ve been out of it for a while,” Crowe said. “The big thing is we’ve got to have a running game. We used to have one, (and) we won championships. I love to have an All-American quarterback, but you’ve still got to run it.”
Ealey, 5-feet-11 and 215 pounds, was given his unconditional release at Georgia after a meeting to express his desire to be the team’s lead back. The Bulldogs signed Isaiah Crowell, the nation’s top-rated running back prospect in February, and return three other players to the position.
“He wants to be somewhere, like Ryan (Perrilloux), where he’ll be the guy,” Crowe said, referring to the quarterback who flourished at JSU for two years after being dismissed at LSU.
Both players have issues, though.
Ealey was benched early last season because of fumbling issues and suspended at least twice in the last eight months. He was suspended in February for missing a disciplinary run, reinstated for spring practice but sidelined with a hamstring injury after four practices and didn’t practice again.
He also was suspended from last year’s opener for an arrest for hit-and-run of a parked vehicle and driving with a suspended license. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Georgia coach Mark Richt was particularly upset because Ealey had assured the coaches he wouldn’t drive while his license was suspended.
Jackson, 6-1 and 235, was dismissed at Ole Miss in mid-May following an arrest by campus police for public drunkenness. He also was suspended from the team in September after alleged to have been in possession of nearly $2,000 worth of electronics that belonged in another university building.
He returned to practice in March and finished the spring as the team’s starting weak side linebacker. He played in four games last season, including Ole Miss’ season-opening loss to JSU, and was credited with two tackles. He was listed as the No. 16 athlete coming out of high school by one recruiting service.
“Clarence had some issues at Ole Miss; we’ve done our due diligence on this,” Crowe said. “I think we understand this is a second chance situation. This is what I classify as a change-of-environment situation. He is not under any legal restraints whatsoever.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The STar. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.