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Health Headlines

    A new report says the world is moving closer to eradicating Guinea worm disease, in which a meter-long worm slowly emerges from a blister in a person's skin.The U.S.-based Carter Center, which leads the eradication campaign, says just 30 cases were reported last year in isolated areas of Ethiopia and Chad. All 15 cases in Ethiopia occurred at a farm where workers drank unfiltered water from a contaminated pond.Mali has not reported any cases in 25 months, and civil war-torn South Sudan has reported no cases in 13 months. The Carter Center called that a 'major accomplishment.'The incapacitating disease three decades ago affected more than 3 million people in 21 countries in Africa and Asia. The meter-long worm incubates in people for up to a year before painfully emerging, often through extremely sensitive parts of the body.'It was more painful than giving birth,' one South Sudan resident, Rejina Bodi, told The Associated Press last year. 'Childbirth ends but this pain persists.'Unlike other diseases which are controlled by medicines or vaccines, Guinea worm can be eradicated by educating people how to filter and drink clean water.Globally, the Guinea worm program is entering the final stretch, though the World Health Organization warns that the remaining cases can be the most difficult to control as they usually occur in remote and often inaccessible areas.If South Sudan continues to report no cases, the world's youngest country will be on track to be certified Guinea worm-free in the next couple of years. In an interview last year with the AP, former President Jimmy Carter praised South Sudan for making steady progress despite the 'tremendous problems' in the East African nation.
  • The flu season in the U.S. is getting worse.Health officials last week said flu was blanketing the country but they thought there was a good chance the season was already peaking. But the newest numbers out Friday show it grew even more intense.'This is a season that has a lot more steam than we thought,' said Dr. Dan Jernigan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.One measure of the season is how many doctor or hospital visits are because of a high fever, cough and other flu symptoms. Thirty-two states reported high patient traffic last week, up from 26 the previous week. Overall, it was the busiest week for flu symptoms in nine years.Hawaii is the only state that doesn't have widespread illnesses.This year's flu season got off to an early start, and it's been driven by a nasty type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other common flu bugs. In New York, state officials say a drastic rise in flu cases hospitalized more than 1,600 this past week.The flu became intense last month in the U.S. The last two weekly report show flu widespread over the entire continental United States, which is unusual.Usually, flu seasons start to wane after so much activity, but 'it's difficult to predict,' Jernigan said.Flu is a contagious respiratory illness, spread by a virus. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but more a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. In a bad season, there as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu. In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older.In Oklahoma and Texas, some school districts canceled classes this week because so many students and teachers were sick with the flu and other illnesses. In Mississippi, flu outbreaks have hit more than 100 nursing homes and other long-term care places, resulting in some restricting visitors.
  • A letter containing what investigators are calling a 'biohazard' has been sent to a Pennsylvania police barracks and has sickened three employees.State police and federal authorities say two state troopers and a civilian staff member became ill Thursday afternoon immediately after one of the troopers opened the letter at the Carlisle barracks and were taken to a hospital.The barracks was evacuated for several hours. The three employees were discharged from the hospital Thursday night and returned to work Friday. The FBI is examining the letter and the envelope containing it.Trooper Brent Miller says the investigation has 'ruled out all serious biohazards' but he can't provide further information on what the letter contained. He says the letter was addressed to the trooper who opened it.
  • The Latest on President Donald Trump and his views on abortion rights (all times local):1:15 p.m.President Donald Trump says he's committed to building 'a society where life is celebrated, protected and cherished.'Trump spoke Friday via video from the White House Rose Garden to thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered for the annual March for Life. He says he is the first president to address the gathering in its 45-year history.The former Manhattan real estate magnate was stepping to the forefront of the movement, a significant distance from the days when he supported abortion rights. He says he changed his mind around 2011.Last year, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the march in Trump's absence.But nearly a year into the presidency, Trump has delivered rules, policy changes — and Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.___11:25 a.m.President Donald Trump is addressing the anti-abortion March for Life from the White House Rose Garden.Organizers say the video address Friday makes him the first president to speak to the march using that technology. Anti-abortion activists say their fight against abortion rights is in the strongest position it's been in in more than a decade.That's despite Trump's onetime advocacy for abortion rights, a stance he says changed around 2011. A year into his presidency, Trump has sought to curtail abortion rights by making rules and policy changes across agencies. He also preserved the Supreme Court's conservative majority by getting Justice Neil Gorsuch confirmed.Abortion-rights groups say Trump's actions amount to a sweeping rollback of reproductive rights.___11:15 a.m.President Donald Trump's administration is spelling out how it plans to protect medical providers who refuse to perform procedures such as abortions because of moral or religious scruples.The Department of Health and Human Services said Friday it is proposing a new regulation that details how existing federal conscience protections will be enforced in real-world situations. That follows an announcement Thursday of a new division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights devoted to protecting the conscience rights of clinicians.Also Friday, HHS took action that may help conservative states restrict or eliminate Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. The department rescinded Obama administration guidance to states that limited the circumstances in which they could exclude a medical provider.The announcements coincided with the annual march on Washington by abortion opponents.___2 a.m.President Donald Trump is stepping to the forefront of his administration's efforts to roll back abortion rights.He's expected to speak by video Friday to thousands of anti-abortion activists participating in the March for Life. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence performed that duty in person.Trump's relationship with anti-abortion activists has been complicated in the past. He once supported abortion rights, a stance he's said to have rejected around 2011. A year into his presidency, Trump has delivered some key victories to abortion opponents and the conservatives who make up his base of support. Chief among them: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has preserved the high court's conservative majority.On Thursday, the administration announced new protections for health care providers who have religious objections to certain procedures, including abortion.
  • President Donald Trump on Friday delivered new support to the anti-abortion movement he once opposed, telling thousands of activists demonstrating in the annual March for Life, 'We are with you all the way.'In an address broadcast from the White House Rose Garden, Trump said he's committed to building 'a society where life is celebrated, protected and cherished.'The moment marked the president personally stepping to the forefront of the anti-abortion movement in the United States as the anniversary of his inauguration approaches. Last year, Vice President Mike Pence addressed the crowd in Trump's absence. In the year since, Trump has delivered on rules and policies he had promised in an effort to help curb abortion rights legalized 45 years ago. Chief among them is the confirmation of conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.Trump's administration on Friday also announced more actions in line with long-standing demands from social and religious conservatives.The Department of Health and Human Services spelled out plans to protect medical providers who refuse to perform procedures such as abortions because of moral or religious scruples. HHS also pulled back an Obama-era policy that posed a legal roadblock to conservative states trying to cut Medicaid funds for Planned Parenthood.The announcements coincided with the annual March for Life on Washington by abortion opponents, with Trump addressing marchers via video link Friday. Vice President Mike Pence gave a preview Thursday night when he told the marchers, 'In one short year, President Donald Trump has made a difference for life.'HHS said it is proposing a new regulation that sets out how existing federal conscience protections will be enforced in real-world situations. That follows an announcement Thursday of a new division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights devoted to protecting the conscience rights of clinicians.The new rule is 'meant to ensure full compliance with laws that have been under-enforced,' said Roger Severino, a conservative lawyer who heads the rights office under Trump. 'These provisions are standard stuff when it comes to civil rights enforcement.'Under the regulation, hospitals, universities, clinics and other entities that receive funding from HHS programs like Medicare and Medicaid will have to certify that they comply with some 25 federal laws protecting conscience and religious rights. Most of these laws address medical procedures such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide. Violations could result in loss of federal funding.Also Friday, HHS took action that may help conservative states cut or eliminate Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. The department rescinded guidance to states from President Barack Obama's administration that narrowed the circumstances in which they can exclude a medical provider to cases involving fraud, criminal activity or being unfit to provide care.However, states are still required to set 'reasonable' standards in determining which medical providers can participate in their Medicaid programs. In addition to providing abortions, Planned Parenthood is a major source of routine medical care for women.The HHS action follows last year's failure by congressional Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood.'This will free up states to once again decide for themselves what reasonable standards may be appropriate,' said Charmaine Yoest, the top spokeswoman for HHS and previously a prominent abortion opponent.In a statement, Planned Parenthood vice president Dawn Laguens said, 'They couldn't get the votes to pass it in Congress, so now they are pushing states to try and block care at Planned Parenthood. The law is clear: it is illegal to bar women from seeking care at Planned Parenthood.'___Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
  • The NCAA's five largest conferences approved sweeping changes in everything from medical care to basketball during the holidays on Friday, dashing through the agenda with little opposition and virtually no debate.Extended medical benefits for former athletes, a three-day break for basketball players over the holiday season, more money for student hosts, and allowing men's hockey players to receive draft advice before enrolling in college without losing eligibility were all approved. The Division I autonomy group passed all four measures — and 11 in all — in just 35 minutes at the NCAA's annual convention.'It's a great day, all the proposals passed,' said Taylor Ricci, a former gymnast and undergraduate assistant coach at Oregon State who serves on the Student Athletic Advisory Committee. 'It's really, really exciting to see the medical proposal pass. It put a smile on my face.'If the last two days proved anything, it's just how closely aligned the power conferences — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — seem to be. Thursday's scheduled two-hour hearing lasted barely 60 minutes, and Friday's voting ended almost 90 minutes early.It's a stark contrast to the contentious debates of earlier years.Medical coverage and mental health benefits for athletes who suffered injuries or sought help during their college careers was extended for at least two years after they leave campus. The proposal passed by 78-1 with the lone dissenting vote coming from an ACC school. Wake Forest's representative did not attend because of what was believed to be weather-related travel issues.Each institution will be able to create its own policies for who qualifies for the new two-year requirement. Many but not all of the 65 Power Five conference members already provide post-career medical coverage, including the Pac-12, which has a four-year mandate.'I think it's good to do it across the board,' California athletic director Mike Williams said. 'I think it's really the right thing for student-athletes.'It's an open question whether the moves by the wealthiest conferences leads to similar changes in other leagues. Schools with less money may find the insurance costs prohibitive unless the NCAA pitches in.'Maybe that is the discussion or a proposal that comes forward,' Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said. 'A lot of times there is some help from the NCAA. This year, there was one-time fund to cover medical and academic expenditures for student well-being.'Williams said he would also be willing to engage in the discussion.The measure requiring schools to give basketball players three consecutive days off near the end of the calendar year passed 58-21 with the addition of an amendment that permits one exemption every four years if a team competes in a qualifying tournament.'We extended the season three days so it seems to me like an even trade,' Williams said. 'Besides, I think our coaches are definitely in favor of getting a little rest and family time.'Even the proposal to raise the student host allowance from $40 per day to $75 passed 64-15 after two students asked voters to reject a smaller increase to $50. The ice hockey measure passed unanimously as part of a seven-part package, which included raising the monetary value of improper benefits requiring restitution from $100 to $200.'The way this (process) has been laid out, there's a lot of dialogue throughout the year and if you're proactive in your conference you have a lot of time to flesh these things out,' Bjork said. 'So it's pretty smooth and when you come to the convention, you just vote.
  • Widespread influenza across Maine has prompted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to alter some traditions to keep parishioners healthy.The diocese announced Thursday that it's suspending the sharing of consecrated wine during communion and holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. The diocese is also discouraging parishioners from shaking hands while greeting each other during the passing of the peace.Other specific guidance calls for priests to place the host into worshippers' hands instead of on their tongues during communion, and to use hand sanitizer before and after communion.The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there's 'widespread' flu activity.The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urges priests to practice good hygiene and sick parishioners to do what they can not to spread the flu.
  • Imagine if cigarettes were no longer addictive and smoking itself became almost obsolete; only a tiny segment of Americans still lit up. That's the goal of an unprecedented anti-smoking plan being carefully fashioned by U.S. health officials.But the proposal from the Food and Drug Administration could have another unexpected effect: opening the door for companies to sell a new generation of alternative tobacco products, allowing the industry to survive — even thrive — for generations to come.The plan puts the FDA at the center of a long-standing debate over so-called 'reduced-risk' products, such as e-cigarettes, and whether they should have a role in anti-smoking efforts, which have long focused exclusively on getting smokers to quit.'This is the single most controversial — and frankly, divisive — issue I've seen in my 40 years studying tobacco control policy,' said Kenneth Warner, professor emeritus at University of Michigan's school of public health.The FDA plan is two-fold: drastically cut nicotine levels in cigarettes so that they are essentially non-addictive. For those who can't or won't quit, allow lower-risk products that deliver nicotine without the deadly effects of traditional cigarettes.This month the government effort is poised to take off. The FDA is expected to soon begin what will likely be a years-long process to control nicotine in cigarettes. And next week, the agency will hold a public meeting on a closely watched cigarette alternative from Philip Morris International, which, if granted FDA clearance, could launch as early as February.The product, called iQOS (pronounced EYE-kose), is a penlike device that heats Marlboro-branded tobacco but stops short of burning it, an approach that Philip Morris says reduces exposure to tar and other toxic byproducts of burning cigarettes. This is different from e-cigarettes, which don't use tobacco at all but instead vaporize liquid usually containing nicotine.For anti-smoking activists these new products may mean surrendering hopes of a knockout blow to the industry. They say there is no safe tobacco product and the focus should be on getting people to quit. But others are more open to the idea of alternatives to get people away from cigarettes, the deadliest form of tobacco.Tobacco companies have made claims about 'safer' cigarettes since the 1950s, all later proven false. In some cases the introduction of these products, such as filtered and 'low tar' cigarettes, propped up cigarette sales and kept millions of Americans smoking. Although the adult smoking rate has fallen to an all-time low of 15 percent, smoking remains the nation's leading preventable cause of death and illness, responsible for about one in five U.S. deaths.Anti-smoking groups also point to Big Tobacco's history of manipulating public opinion and government efforts against smoking: In 2006, a federal judge ruled that Big Tobacco had lied and deceived the American public about the effects of smoking for more than 50 years. The industry defeated a 2010 proposal by the FDA to add graphic warning labels to cigarette packs. And FDA scrutiny of menthol-flavored cigarettes — used disproportionately by young people and minorities — has been bogged down since 2011, due to legal challenges.'We're not talking about an industry that is legitimately interested in saving lives here,' said Erika Sward of the American Lung Association.But some industry observers say this time will be different.'The environment has changed, the technology has changed, the companies have changed — that is the reality,' said Scott Ballin, a health policy consultant who previously worked for the American Heart Association.Under a 2009 law, the FDA gained authority to regulate certain parts of the tobacco industry, including nicotine in cigarettes, though it cannot remove the ingredient completely. The same law allows the agency to scientifically review and permit sales of new tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Little has happened so far. Last year, the agency said it would delay the deadline for manufacturers to submit their vapor-emitting products for review until 2022.The FDA says it wants to continue to help people quit by supporting a variety of approaches, including new quit-smoking aids and opening opportunities for a variety of companies, including drugmakers, to help attack the problem. As part of this, the FDA sees an important role for alternative products — but in a world where cigarettes contain such a small amount of nicotine that they become unappealing even to lifelong smokers.'We still have to provide an opportunity for adults who want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine,' but without the hazards of burning tobacco, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He estimates the FDA plan could eventually prevent 8 million smoking-related deaths.'SMOKE-FREE FUTURE'Philip Morris International and its U.S. partner Altria will try to navigate the first steps of the new regulatory path next week.At a two-day meeting before the FDA, company scientists will try and convince government experts that iQOS is less-harmful than cigarettes. If successful, iQOS could be advertised by Altria to U.S. consumers as a 'reduced-risk' tobacco product, the first ever sanctioned by the FDA.Because iQOS works with real tobacco the company believes it will be more effective than e-cigarettes in getting smokers to switch.Philip Morris already sells the product in about 30 countries, including Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.iQOS is part of an elaborate corporate makeover for Philip Morris, which last year rebranded its website with the slogan: 'Designing a smoke-free future.' The cigarette giant says it has invested over $3 billion in iQOS and eventually plans to stop selling cigarettes worldwide — though it resists setting a deadline.Philip Morris executives say they are offering millions of smokers a better, less-harmful product.Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids still sees danger. He says FDA must strictly limit marketing of products like iQOS to adult smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit. Otherwise they may be used in combination with cigarettes or even picked up by nonsmokers or young people who might see the new devices as harmless enough to try.'As a growing percentage of the world makes the decision that smoking is too dangerous and too risky, iQOS provides an alternative to quitting that keeps them in the market,' Myers says.It's unclear whether existing alternatives to cigarettes help smokers quit, a claim often made by e-cigarette supporters. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests about 60 percent of adult e-cigarette users also smoke regular cigarettes.THE CASE FOR LOWER NICOTINEExperts who study nicotine addiction say the FDA plan is grounded in the latest science.Several recent studies have shown that when smokers switch to very low-nicotine cigarettes they smoke less and are more likely to try quitting. But they also seek nicotine from other sources, underscoring the need for alternatives. Without new options, smokers would likely seek regular-strength cigarettes on the black market.Crucial to the FDA proposal is a simple fact: nicotine is highly addictive, but not deadly. It's the burning tobacco and other substances inhaled through smoking that cause cancer, heart disease and bronchitis.'It's hard to imagine that using nicotine and tobacco in a way that isn't burned, in a non-combustible form, isn't going to be much safer,' said Eric Donny, an addiction researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.A study of 800 smokers by Donny and other researchers showed that when nicotine was limited to less than 1 milligram per gram of tobacco, users smoked fewer cigarettes. The study, funded by the FDA, was pivotal to showing that smokers won't compensate by smoking more if nicotine intake is reduced enough. That was the case with 'light' and 'low-tar' cigarettes introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, when some smokers actually began smoking more cigarettes per day.Still, many in the anti-smoking community say larger, longer studies are needed to predict how low-nicotine cigarettes would work in the real world.LEGAL RISKSKey to the FDA plan is the assumption that the two actions will happen at the same time: as regulators cut nicotine in conventional cigarettes, manufacturers will provide alternative products.But that presumes that tobacco companies will willingly part with their flagship product, which remains enormously profitable.Kenneth Warner, the public policy professor, said he would be 'astonished' if industry cooperates on reducing nicotine levels.'I don't think they will. I think they will bring out all of their political guns against it and I'm quite certain they will sue to prevent it,' he said.In that scenario, the FDA plan to make cigarettes less addictive could be stalled in court for years while companies begin launching FDA-sanctioned alternative products. Tobacco critics say that scenario would be the most profitable for industry.'It's like Coke, you can have regular Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, we'll sell you any Coke you like,' said Robin Koval, president of the Truth Initiative, which runs educational anti-tobacco campaigns.But the FDA's Gottlieb says the two parts of the plan must go together. 'I'm not going to advance this in a piecemeal fashion,' he said.When pressed about whether industry will sue FDA over mandatory nicotine reductions, tobacco executives for Altria and other companies instead emphasized the long, complicated nature of the regulatory process.'I'm not going to speculate about what may happen at the end of a multiyear process,' said Jose Murillo, an Altria vice president. 'It will be science and evidence-based and we will be engaged at every step of the way.
  • The birthrate in China fell last year despite the country easing its family planning policies and allowing all couples to have two children, a result parents say of the stresses of urban life.There were 17.2 million births in the country last year, down from 17.9 million in 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics reported Thursday. With almost 1.4 billion people, China has the world's largest population but it is aging fast even before reaching its expected peak of 1.45 billion in 2029.China changed its longstanding one-child policy in 2015 in hopes of increasing the size of the younger working population that will eventually have to support their elders. The number of births rose nearly 8 percent in 2016, with nearly half of the babies born to couples who already had a child.That appears to have been a one-time increase, however, with couple's decisions to not have a second child affected by the trend toward later marriage, the desire for smaller families and concerns about the high cost of raising children.Studies have predicted the loosening of the one-child policy would bring only a relatively small increase in population growth. Experts have recommended the country increase its retirement age to address an expected labor shortage and declining economic vitality.The burden of looking after aging parents is one reason not to have a second child, said housewife Zeng Jialin, who was waiting to pick up her 6-year-old son outside a school in downtown Beijing on Friday.'They helped us look after one child, but we would have to babysit the second one ourselves. Also, there would be so many things to take care of in terms of time management, economic conditions and pressure,' Zeng said.Wang Jianjun, the father of an 8-year-old boy, said he was undecided about having another child, but time and financial concerns weighed heavily.'Helping with schoolwork takes a lot of time. And until the young one is 2, mother won't be able to work which means a big loss of income that we're not prepared for,' Wang said.China enacted its one-child policy in 1979, enforced with fines and in some cases state-mandated abortions. The expected future reduction in the working-age population is exacerbated by a skewed male-female birth ratio resulting from the traditional preference for male offspring.
  • The mother of a mentally ill woman who was left outside a Baltimore hospital on a frigid night wearing only a flimsy gown and socks says the 22-year-old daughter was denied care by medical professionals and left to face life-threatening conditions on the street.Cheryl Chandler said she was only made aware of her missing daughter's predicament on the night of Jan. 9 when she happened upon a viral video shot by a passer-by enraged at the way she was treated.Chandler's daughter, Rebecca, was escorted out of the hospital by uniformed security personnel with her street clothes stuffed in plastic bags, and she was left at an open-air bus stop with outdoor temperatures in the 30s. She had a gash on her forehead and was visibly disoriented, stumbling in her hospital gown and unable to formulate any words on the cold night.At a Thursday press conference held at a lawyer's office, Chandler described her daughter as a beloved young woman who has been struggling intensely with mental illness since she was 16. Over the past year-and-a-half, she has cycled through a couple of residential facilities for mentally ill clients.She said Rebecca, who has health insurance, was 'denied her right by law to receive the clinical care' that the CEO of the University of Maryland Medical Center has publicly claimed she received that night.'My daughter did not choose to be the face of mental illness. She didn't choose to be an example of the impact of a failed mental health care system. She was an individual in need of services,' Chandler said through tears, adding that she was 'eternally grateful' to psychotherapist Imamu Baraka for shooting the cellphone video showing her daughter's condition.J. Wyndal Gordon, the attorney representing Rebecca, said she was suffering from an episode of acute psychosis when the institution turned its back on her. He asserts it's a case of 'patient dumping,' an illegal practice of turning away patients, mostly uninsured, from emergency rooms.'Rebecca's condition was going to require a considerable hospital stay to stabilize her. UMMC, believing that she did not have insurance, determined it was better to return her to the street untreated and face whatever consequences arose from that decision rather than to absorb the cost,' Gordon alleged.Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of University of Maryland Medical Center, told reporters last week there were no excuses for what happened to the young woman. But he stood by her medical care, saying she received treatment and was discharged.'We believe firmly that we provided appropriate medical care to a patient who came to us in need, but where we absolutely failed, and where we own that failure, is in the demonstration of basic humanity and compassion as a patient was being discharged,' he said.On Thursday, the hospital released a statement saying its internal investigation has identified a breakdown after the point of medical discharge. It said resulting 'actions steps' will include holding personnel accountable and getting outside experts to conduct an independent audit.Suntha, in the statement, said he's confident that their actions 'address the root causes of last week's breakdown.'But Gordon said he expects 'legal action' over the incident.He believes Rebecca should have been placed on a 72-hour hold so she could be properly evaluated. Instead, the hospital dumped her on the street 'unable to speak coherently, fend for herself, or respond appropriately to the frigid temperatures.'She was involuntarily admitted to another Baltimore hospital a day after being discharged from the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus and sent to a homeless shelter, her family said.Her mother said Rebecca is now at an undisclosed inpatient facility undergoing mental health treatment. Her younger sister, Rachelle, said she was doing better and read aloud a statement from Rebecca thanking people for their support.Rebecca's twin sister, Rosslyn, who flew to Baltimore from her home in Texas, wept as she recalled watching the video showing her beloved sister in such distress.'It didn't take a genius to see that she needed help,' she said, her voice shaking.___David McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd

Local News

  • The following is  press release from the Georgia House of Representatives:  ATLANTA – State Representatives Deborah Gonzalez (D-Athens) and Jonathan Wallace (D-Watkinsville) today issued the following joint statement regarding a recent policy change made by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office:   “As elected representatives of the Athens-Clarke County (ACC) community, we are concerned about a recent policy change made by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office with respect to turning over undocumented immigrants to U.S. Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) detention. This new policy is especially concerning given the questions that surround the legality of some ICE operations by the Trump Administration and the fact that there is no compelling reason for a change in local policy at this time.   “This is also a surprising reversal of the community policing approach followed by both the Athens-Clarke County Police Department and the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office in recent years. The recent change in policy stands in stark contrast to the community policing approach that is strongly supported by ACC residents.     “Community policing is successful in making communities safer because it treats people as partners rather than adversaries, it increases cooperation with law enforcement and it addresses the underlying issues that affect crime.     “We are not only concerned that routine traffic stops are leading to the detention and deportation of people in our community, but that Athens-area children are terrorized by immigration raids that occur while they wait for the school bus, as some reports now indicate. These events sow the seeds of distrust between people and the police, making us less safe as a community.   “We ask the sheriff to respect the wishes of our mutual constituents and return to a community policing focus that puts local public safety first. If local agencies continue to comply with ICE, we could jeopardize the constitutional rights of individuals, divide our communities and increase costs to tax payers.   “We see no compelling or urgent reason for the Athens-Clarke County Police Department or the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office to proactively participate in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of a federal agency.”   Rep. Wallace added: “When people feel interaction with law enforcement could result in themselves or a loved one being arrested and possibly deported, it shuts down communication and cooperation between the community and its officers and reduces safety for everyone. We urge the sheriff to listen to his constituents and return to a focus on local law enforcement, leaving immigration control to federal agencies.” Rep. Gonzalez added: “After communicating with the various stakeholders, including Sheriff Edwards, Police Chief Freeman, various Athens residents and the Office of Legislative Counsel at the Georgia State Capitol, and after careful review of the law identified by the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office as the cause for the sudden change, it is my assessment that the sheriff’s policy change is purely voluntary and not required by law. Therefore, I ask the Sheriff to reconsider his stance. Continuing this policy change carries risk for Athens-Clarke County because not only could the county be sued for violating the constitutional rights of residents by detaining them without a warrant, but holding people for longer than necessary it is a costly burden on our jail.”   Representative Deborah Gonzalez represents the citizens of District 117, which includes portions of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, and Oconee counties. She was elected to the House of Representatives in 2017 and currently serves on the Code Revision, Intragovernmental Coordination and Judiciary Non-Civil committees. Representative Jonathan Wallace represents the citizens of District 119, which includes portions of Clarke and Oconee counties. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2017 and currently serves on the Budget and Fiscal Affairs Oversight, Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications and Special Rules committees.
  • The Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office says one person has been arrested after the discovery of what appears to be a methamphetamine manufacturing lab. From the Oglethorpe County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page…     There is a rumor going around that there was a meth lab explosion in Oglethorpe. In fact deputies and fire fighters responded to a fire call on Dunlap Ext. They found and extinguished a small fire. A possible small meth lab was found during the process. No one is hurt. Three firefighters are being decontaminated for possible exposure as a precaution. Investigators that are experts in meth labs have been called in to process the scene and properly decontaminate if it is found in fact to be a meth lab. There is no danger to the general public. One person is in custody at this time. The scene was evaluated and it was determined this was NOT a working meth lab. 
  • A new graduate program from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business will prepare students for high-demand jobs in today’s data-centric economy. The Master of Science in Business Analytics combines courses on big data and strategic decision-making with project management and leadership development. The result is a complementary focus that teaches hard and soft skills that are very attractive to data-driven businesses, said Terry College Dean Benjamin C. Ayers. “Our goal has always been to prepare the next generation of business leaders by providing a market-ready curriculum and equipping our students with a skill set that is highly competitive in the job market,” Ayers said. “The M.S. in Business Analytics is a perfect example of our commitment to deliver the best quality education for our students and positively contribute to the economic growth of our state and nation.” The 10-month program helps students develop expertise in the collection, storage, analysis and interpretation of data, in addition to becoming fluent in the predominant programming languages of the field, such as SQL, R and Python. “We have access to more data than ever before, so it is essential for business leaders to be able to understand and operate within this new paradigm,” said Santanu Chatterjee, who will direct the MSBA along with Terry’s Full-Time MBA Program. “Today’s economy demands that employees have skills that intersect business and technology while also being able to communicate effectively. Our goal is to help students develop those skills today so they are ready not only to contribute but to lead within an organization.” Graduates of the MSBA Program will be ready for jobs in business analytics, statistical modeling and data science, helping to fill the growing demand for workers who can interpret big data in a business context. The MSBA degree will become part of the university’s Double Dawgs Program, which allows students to earn both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in five years or less.
  • Schools around the region—most of them—are open and operating on normal schedules this morning. The snow and ice that made for treacherous travel Wednesday and Thursday has, for the most part, melted away. There are still a handful of school closures around the region: Walton County schools are closed, while Hall, Habersham, and Gwinnett counties are opening their schools on a delayed basis later this morning.  A ribbon cutting that had been scheduled for earlier this week is rescheduled for today: officials will mark the ceremonial opening of the 5,000 square-foot Child Development Center at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center. The ceremony is set for noon at the hospital on Prince Avenue in Athens.  They’re trying to get back to normal at the airport in Atlanta: snow and ice led to the cancellation of another 200 flights Thursday at Hartsfield-Jackson.  Authorities want to know why a 60-year-old GDOT worker from Thomaston pulled into the path of a CSX train Thursday morning in Moreland. Cary Ellerbee was treating icy and snowy roads using his salt truck when authorities say he collided with the train. Coweta County Fire Chief Pat Wilson says he pulled onto the tracks right after another vehicle crossed and was dragged several hundred yards after being hit. He had to be extricated from the mangled wreckage and later died. Nobody on the train was injured. 
  • Tony Eubanks has a campaign kickoff event tonight: the Athens activist says he is running for the District 3 seat on the Athens-Clarke County Commissioner, a post now held by one-term incumbent Melissa Link. Eubank’s campaign launch is set for 7 o’clock this evening at Cine on West Hancock Avenue in downtown Athens. 

Bulldog News

  • The game: Mississippi State at Georgia, Sept. 23, 2017. The moment: Touchdown pass on first offensive play of game for Bulldogs. Key player or players: Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Nick Chubb and Terry Godwin What it meant: Established a tone and mindset for the Bulldogs in a top 25 SEC matchup against an opponent that came in riding high. ATHENS – It was one of those plays the players start getting excited about the moment it’s installed in the game plan. And this one went in early in the week before Georgia played Mississippi State. To appreciate what happened on that play in that game, we have to take into account the dynamics of that matchup. The Bulldogs were just two weeks removed from their dramatic 20-19 win over Notre Dame in South Bend. But there still wasn’t much context to that victory. Nobody could be sure how good the Fighting Irish were, or Georgia, for that matter. UGA (3-0) entered the contest against Mississippi State ranked 11th. Likewise, Mississippi State was coming in walking tall. The Maroon Bulldogs (3-0) had just orchestrated an impressive 38-0 road win over LSU in Baton Rouge and shot into the top 25 rankings at No. 17. Led by Georgia-born quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State entered as a trendy pick to pull off an upset. FLEA FLICKER! Fromm ➡️ Godwin. Just like that… 7️⃣-0️⃣ @FootballUGA. pic.twitter.com/YMH0bGHmTu — SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 23, 2017 Georgia dispensed with that idea quickly. Georgia anticipated that Mississippi State’s defense, under the direction of former UGA defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, would be coming hard to stuff the run, so the Bulldogs decided to run a flea-flicker on their first play from scrimmage. Mississippi State received the game’s opening kickoff, so Georgia’s offense would have to wait. But not long. After forcing State into a three-and-out and punt, Georgia took over at its 41-yard line at the 12:47 mark. On first-and-10, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm handed off to tailback Nick Chubb at right guard, same as he does most every game. But instead of running the ball into the hole behind Solomon Kinley, Chubb stopped, about-faced and tossed the ball back to Fromm about nine yards behind the line of scrimmage. Facing zero pass pressure, Fromm calmly delivered a high-arcing pass to wide receiver Terry Godwin, streaking toward the East end zone just inside the right hash mark. Facing man coverage, Godwin had gotten behind Mississippi State senior cornerback Tolando Cleveland by a couple of yards, hauled in the football basket style with two hands and cut hard to left to ensure that he would remain untouched, which he did. Ten seconds after the snap of the ball and 2:23 into the game, Georgia led 6-0. Sanford Stadium exploded in celebration. The home-standing Bulldogs did not look back on the way to a 31-3 blowout victory. It was the second of what would be six consecutive lopsided victories by an average of 24 points. Turns out that the play, while called by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, actually had been suggested by head coach Kirby Smart. “I had gone to Jim and told him I’d like to open with that, and he said they had been talking about the same thing,” Smart said after the game. “We felt like their players would be peeking in the backfield, and Terry got behind them.” Said Mississippi State linebacker Braxton Hoyett, “It’s just something we should have expected honestly. We knew coming into the game they were going to try something. I felt like we were prepared for it, but it happened. I can’t even make an excuse for it. They came out with a trick play and they were gone.” Fromm went 9-for-12 for 201 yards passing and two touchdowns in the game. Chubb had 81 yards rushing and scored twice, and Godwin had one other catch and finished with 80 yards receiving. The Bulldogs improved to 4-0 before heading to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. The post Top 10 moments of 2017: The flea-flicker against Mississippi State appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – “It takes a village to raise a child.” That’s thought to be an ancient African proverb. The fact is, nobody has been able to fully validate the origins of that well-used phrase. What is certain, however, is the maxim fully applies to the story of Montezuma’s Roquan Smith. Before it’s all over, Smith may be considered the greatest linebacker to ever don the red and black of the Georgia Bulldogs. We’ll have to give that legacy more time to percolate. Without question, however, he leaves Georgia as one of the program’s most successful and decorated defensive players in modern history. The winner of the 2017 Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker, Smith piled up 124 tackles last season and led a defense that paved the way for the Bulldogs’ run to the College Football Playoff championship game. On Jan. 8, Georgia (13-2) lost to Alabama in the finals 26-23 in overtime and finished with a No. 2 national ranking. One week later, Smith declared for the 2018 NFL Draft. While he waited until the last day for underclassmen to declare – he’s a junior – it was pretty much a foregone that Smith would turn pro. All logic and reasoning dictated that he should. “The decision to leave is not easy, but I know it is the right one,” Smith said. Yes, it was. Smith is considered an almost certain first-round pick. Some projections – including ESPN’s Mel Kiper — place him among the top 10 selections. For some perspective, the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft, Patrick Mahomes, signed a contract worth $16.5 million and received a $10 million signing bonus. That said, everybody around Smith insists he struggled with the decision. “It was hard on him because he really loved being at UGA,” said Larry Harold, Smith’s coach when he was Macon County High School. As it is Smith is now preparing to become a pro. He signed on with CAA Football and is currently training for the NFL combine at EXOS Sports Performance in Phoenix, Ariz., according to his agent, Brian Ayrault of Atlanta. “He’s doing great,” Ayrault said Wednesday from Phoenix. “He’s here working out as we speak.” Ayrault said Smith was unavailable to talk but will be soon. We don’t need to hear from Smith to know that where he is at the moment is a long, long way from Montezuma, both literally and figuratively. Montezuma is located in south-central Georgia in the middle of Macon County and in the middle of nowhere, really. It’s mainly an agriculturally based community, with peaches being the No. 1 crop but also soy beans, cotton, peanuts and garden vegetables. There’s also a large pulpwood industry there. It’s also home to the armory of Bravo Company of the Georgia Army National Guard. Otherwise, not much else. The median income of the area is listed as $23,022, according to the local government’s website. Smith spent his last year of living in Montezuma working part time on a crew digging wells for farm irrigation systems. From his sophomore to senior years at Macon County High School, in addition to playing football at a very high level, he was considered a model citizen. Not so much before that. Smith grew up with loving parents, Roderick Smith and Shaquana Thomas. But like a lot of people in that area, they had their hands full making a living. When Roquan was growing up, his father lived about an hour away in Macon where he worked construction. His mother lived in Oglethorpe, the next town over from Montezuma and just a short distance away but commuted a half-hour away each day to her full-time job at Fort Valley State University. With both parents gone to work each day, that left a lot of unsupervised time for Roquan and his siblings. Those include an older brother by a year, Rod Smith; and a younger sister and brother, Tyanna and Omar Richards. Smith allegedly wasn’t always making the best use of his idle time. That’s when Gloria Story stepped in to help out. “When I got there (to Macon County High School) at the end of his freshman year, I didn’t know too much about his home life,” said Harold, who is now the head coach and athletic director at Central High School in Macon. “But I know Gloria stepped in when there were some issues about helping with him. She took him in and provided a stable home life. They have a great home, her and her husband, Richard Story. They gave him everything he needed and not necessarily what he wanted. I feel like that was a life-changing moment in his life.” To this day, Smith refers to Story as his aunt, although she’s actually not. There were plenty of others around lending a hand, as well. His grandfather, Nathaniel Lamb, his grandmother Betty Smith, and his aunt, Shaquanda Baker, all contributed to Smith’s upbringing. There were other benefactors as well, such as Harold, Macon County principal Rickey Edmond and family friend Roy Yoder. But make no mistake about it. It’s Roquan’s mother who has his heart. “Oh, now he loves his Mama,” Harold said. “It’s for her he does everything he does.” In addition to his tremendous athleticism, Smith’s work ethic helped distinguished him at Georgia. His work in the training room – and at the training table – took him from 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, his size when he reported to UGA, to 6-2, 225, the size at which he’ll leave. Remarkably, Smith was able to do that without losing his tailback-worthy speed. He routinely has been timed at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash but says he has been timed at — and plans to again be timed — in the 4.4s. His goal for the combine is to clock a sub-4.5. Regardless of what time he runs, Smith’s speed was on display week after week this past season for the Bulldogs and their opponents as Smith yanked down ballcarriers and receivers from sideline to sideline. Coach Kirby Smart called him the perfect inside linebacker for defending today’s run-pass-option-based spread offenses. “A tackling machine,” Smart called him. “Sideline-to-sideline, relentless, athletic, tough, competitive, leads, talks when needs to, quiet when he needs to be. He has impeccable character. I’m just proud of how hard he works and that he buys into what we believe.” Such offenses are also becoming more prevalent in the NFL. That’s why Smith continues to command such a high draft grade, even though he’s not the traditional size of pro linebackers. So whenever and wherever Smith eventually gets drafted, it’s clear he is going to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional athlete. It’s something that Harold says Smith communicated to him the first time they met at Macon County High School as coach and player. “I can’t wait to see him playing pro ball on TV,” Harold said. “He always talked that, about going to school, getting his degree and going on to the next level. Everything he talked about when he was in high school he has achieved. It’s just great to see. He’s come a long, long way. Not just as a football player. He’s matured so much, became more of a leader, more vocal. It’s just great seeing a kid like that go from a boy to a man.” Smith is scheduled to graduate with a degree in communications in December. Or at least he was before he decided to take this alternate route. But he should be fine. With a few million in the bank and at least few years in the NFL guaranteed, Smith will be able to come back to UGA to finish his education. And those closest to him fully expect Smith will. They’ve all had a hand in getting him to where he is. Seeing him get from here to there has left no doubters in Montezuma. “There have been some great athletes come through Macon County, and not a lot of them make it out,” Harold said. “He came from a loving community and a loving family that did everything they had to do to make sure he was able to achieve his dreams. He’d tell you the same thing.” We’ll be hearing from Smith soon enough. The post Montezuma lifted up Roquan Smith, and now UGA’s star linebacker will return favor appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are literally best friends and I’m sure they honestly don’t care, but it’s going to be very interesting to see which of the Georgia running backs is picked first in the NFL draft. They’re also very competitive with each other, so I wouldn’t be surprised if there might be a friendly wager involved. I’ll say this, though: I expect both of them to be selected by the end of the second day of the April 26-28 draft at least. And, regardless, I predict NFL success for both of these guys. The general consensus coming out of this season seemed to be that Michel will be the first of the Dogs’ duo to go off the board. The narrative is that Michel is the more versatile of the two backs. That’s an assertion that Chubb didn’t necessarily disagree with. He told me as much at one of the College Football Playoff media days. He said that Michel was probably a little better catching the ball out of the backfield. Certainly statistics back that up. At the end of their careers, Chubb had 30 catches for 362 yards and 4 touchdowns while Michel basically doubled him up had 64 receptions for 621 yards and 6 scores. But it’s not like Michel was a part-time flanker or anything like that. He had nine catches for 96 yards and one touchdown all season, with the lone TD catch not coming until the playoffs. And Chubb was actually utilized more in that fashion as a freshman while he was sharing time with Todd Gurley. Kind of forgotten from that season was that Chubb had 18 catches for 213 yards and scored twice via the pass that year. So, it could be argued that disparity was as much a function of role as it was anything else. Which is another thing I always liked about these two guys. I always thought they were at their best when they were interviewed side-by-side. That’s when their personality differences were the most stark. In case you weren’t paying attention, Chubb was the quiet and reserved one while Michel was (slightly) more talkative and certainly more flashy from the standpoint of his alter-ego as rapper flyguy2stackz. But they were also a mutual admiration society. Michel never begrudged Chubb always being the starter in the rotation. He joked that meant that Chubb had the harder role, coming out Saturday after Saturday against defenses that were jacked to stuff the run and would be selling out like a flea market on run blitzes. “He’s the one that has to take all that contact,” Michel said earlier this past season. “He was softening them up for me.” That trend was reflected in their rushing stats each of the last two seasons. Michel averaged more yards per carry than Chubb both years, 5.5 to 5.0 as juniors and 7.9 to 6.4 as seniors. And that might ultimately tip the ledger in Michel’s favor when it comes to their draft prospects this spring. Without question, Michel arrives at this juncture with less wear-and-tear on his body. Chubb had 740 carries in his career with the Bulldogs while Michel had 591. And it was Chubb that had to have his left knee rebuilt after that awful incident in Knoxville in 2015. Michel has had his own share of twists, pulls and bruises. And he actually played in one more game (47) than did his roommate in college. This much is certain: Together they were nearly an unstoppable force for the Bulldogs. They’ll go down as one of the most prolific running back duos of all time. Separately, they finished as the second and third rushers of all time at Georgia, with 4,744 and 3,638 yards, respectively. Between them, they scored 90 touchdowns, with 51 of those in Chubb’s column. Only Herschel Walker, with 52, had more. Wrap your head around that for a minute. And that’s what NFL executives are going to have to ponder between now draft day. Which one of these guys goes first and how high will they be taken? That’s anybody’s guess at this point. The theory is that the running back position has been devalued by the proliferation of passing in the NFL game over the years. But backs keep getting drafted in the early rounds, including the first. LSU’s Leonard Fournette went on the fourth pick last year and made good on it with 1,040 yards rushing and nine touchdowns this season. Christian McCaffrey was also a first-round selection and eight backs were selected in the first three rounds. Included in that bunch was Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing this year with 1,327 yards and was named rookie of the year. And we all know what Georgia’s Todd Gurley has done for the Los Angeles Rams. Chubb and Michel’s former running mate had 1,305 yards rushing, 2,093 total yards and 19 touchdowns this past season. He said at the Rose Bowl he expects believes Chubb and Michel will both make great pros. As for their draft projections, they’re all over the board. Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the consensus pick to be the first running back selected, followed by LSU’s Derrius Guice. Chubb and Michel generally are projected a little behind those guys, almost always close together and with no consensus as to which might be selected first. Of the different rankings I perused, Michel’s highest rating among draft-eligible backs was fourth by draftwire.com (which had Chubb fifth). WalterFootball.com had Michel fifth and Chubb sixth, while CBSSports.com have Michel sixth and Chubb seventh. But then, ESPNInsider had Chubb seventh and Michel ninth and DraftTek.com had Chubb sixth and Michel eighth. Then there was ESPN’s well-known draft expert Todd McShay, who had Chubb fourth and did not include Michel in his Top 10. Wrote McShay: “Chubb rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 straight games before tearing several knee ligaments (not including his ACL) in 2015. He didn’t have the same explosiveness in 2016 coming off the injury, but he has quick feet for his size (listed at 5-foot-10, 228 pounds). Right now, he projects as a Day 2 pick, but he could move up the boards if he can regain some of that agility.” If you know Chubb like I do, I’m sure he’s busy “regaining that agility” as we speak. But same for Michel. These two Dogs spent the last four years trying to out-do each other in the weight room and on the practice field and in games. Maybe one team will take a page out of Georgia’s book and draft both of these guys. Wouldn’t that be something? The post Nick Chubb or Sony Michel: Who goes first in NFL draft not a sure thing appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – So Roquan Smith and Trent Thomson have packed their bags and joined Georgia’s giant pack of seniors in heading on down the road. This is what makes college football so great. This is also what makes it so hard. Georgia’s toughest task will be in finding another inside linebacker that can have near the impact that Roquan Smith did this past season. (Perry McIntyre Jr./UGA) College football, by and large, is cyclical. That works to varying degrees for different programs, but because of the constant ingress and egress of players due to graduation and attrition, achieving sustained, championship-level success is next to impossible for any program not currently named Alabama. To me, that’s what makes it fun and somewhat unpredictable from year to year. Alabama, at this place in time, is the exception. I know it’s still awfully soon in these parts to be offering the Crimson Tide any kudos but — those egregiously bad calls aside — Bama did, in fact, make it back to the penultimate game for a third year in a row. The past decade under coach Nick Saban has been, in a word, astonishing. The Tide has won five national championships in that span and more games than any team in America. Maybe the next 10 years will be similarly grand for Georgia. But that’s where coach Kirby Smart will have to distinguish himself as different from coaches that have preceded him. As we all know, Georgia is a very proud and successful football program by its own right. It is, after all, third all-time in number of bowl appearances with 53. Only Bama (66) and Texas (54) have more. But historically speaking, the Bulldogs have been the very the definition of cyclical when it comes to high-level success. Again, only Alabama (26) has won more SEC football championships than Georgia (13) over the years (the Bulldogs are tied with Tennessee). But as one might suspect, those have been few and far between in what we’d call the modern era, which would begin with Vince Dooley’s tenure back in 1964. Georgia won six SEC championships in 25 seasons under Dooley, or roughly one in every four seasons. Neither Ray Goff nor Jim Donnan were able to hoist the conference crown. Mark Richt won two in 15 seasons, while playing for it five times. Now Smart is a sporty 1-for-2. But that’s all about league titles. That’s no longer the ultimate measurement. Now it’s all about getting into the playoff. As Alabama can attest, you can do that without being a conference champion. Judging Georgia’s success more from the perspective of having good years – that is, winning a lot of games and playing in a good bowl – the Bulldogs’ cycle looks more like this: Dooley 12 of 25 seasons, or about half; Goff one in seven; Donnan one in five; Richt eight in 15 (I’m not counting the 10-win seasons that resulted in Taxslayer and Belk Bowl bids). Taken as a whole, that’s about 42 percent of the time Georgia has been in for a really fun and exciting season. We don’t need to discuss how it often it has played for the ultimate prize (OK, four times in 37 years, but I’m not discussing it). Back to the here and now, part of what makes it so difficult to regularly get your program “in the hunt,” as it were, is that cyclical tendency of the college game. If your team is good enough to compete for a championship, conference or national, then two factors are probably going to apply: One, it featured a lot of extremely talented players; two, it was veteran-laden and experienced. In both cases, they’re usually followed by an exodus. That was definitely the case for Georgia in 2017. As was well-chronicled all year, the Bulldogs featured a total of 31 seniors. Seventeen of those seniors were on scholarship. Fifteen of those would fall in the category of major contributors. At least four or five of them could be first or second-day NFL draftees. Then you add in the losses of the juniors Smith and Thompson to the NFL draft – a relatively light number given the level of success Georgia enjoyed — and you begin to get a sense of the talent deficit the Bulldogs are going to have to replenish if they are to have similar success in 2018. As for Smith, I don’t have to tell anybody who watched Georgia this season what kind of an absence he’s going to leave. He was a once-a-generation player, to be sure, as some of these Top 10 and 15 draft projections suggest. And Thompson, even though his junior season was less productive than the previous one, is a unique physical talent that will be difficult to replace. All told, that’s six starters off your offense, nine off the defense and two specialists. If not for junior Jonathan Ledbetter’s decision to return, it could’ve been a 7-for-7 loss of Georgia’s front seven. This is not to sprinkle doom-and-gloom over the prospects of next season for the Bulldogs. That’s just a little reality check on the challenge that’s in front of Smart and his staff. But as evidenced from this past season, I definitely believe they’re up for it. You can start with recruiting, where Smart is in the midst of building his third straight Top-10 class, each one better than the last. The current group is ranked No. 1, with only a handful targets remaining on the board after that smashing experiment that was the first year of an early-signing period. Georgia already has netted 20 actual signees, with at least five more on the way. None of which has slowed down the charge of Smart and his staff. Since the championship game ended, they hardly have even come up for air. They’re laser-focused on the remaining targets, all the elitist of the elite, while concentrating hard on prospects for 2019 and even ’20. It’s a luxury the Bulldogs can afford with the current state of affairs being what it is. But replacing seasoned veterans with unproven talent is always a risky proposition. Certainly it helps when they have a lot of stars by their name, but that’s no guarantee. Hopefully Georgia will get a nice blend of contribution from brilliant newcomers, developing lettermen and established stars. That certainly came to past this last season, though finding leadership to rival the group that just left will be the ultimate challenge. Of all this, Smart is well aware. He comes from a place that has been able to put all that back together on the regular. And he’s bringing all that knowledge to a place that’s been doing pretty doggone good as it is. Nobody has won more than Alabama over these last 10 years, games (125) or national championships (5). But Georgia hasn’t been all that far behind. The Bulldogs stand ninth in victories over that span with 96. The key is keeping those lows high and the highs at the very top of the mountain. Smart has given the Bulldogs a peek of that view. Everyone seems to be in agreement that they like it. Now, to find the next Roquan. … The post Greatest coaching challenge for Georgia’s Kirby Smart awaits him in 2018 appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Every year we see a handful of prospects drastically improve their NFL draft stock with huge bowl game performances. This season, no player’s stock was helped more by a huge postseason than Georgia’s Sony Michel, according to a report by NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah.  Jeremiah polled a handful of NFL executives, asking which player helped himself the most in bowl season, with three of the five executives naming Michel as the biggest winner. One called Michel a “three-down back,” while another took things a step further by saying that Michel “separated himself from [Nick] Chubb.”  In his two College Football Playoff games, Michel totaled 320 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns. His performance against Oklahoma was particularly monstrous, as he ran for 181 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 11 attempts, while also adding 4 catches for 41 yards and another touchdown.  At the moment, Michel is likely to go in Round 2 or 3, though he could continue to improve his stock with a big NFL combine or Georgia pro day.