ATHENS — The remaining members of Georgia’s ballyhooed 2018 football recruiting class — 16 of them, at last count — have arrived on campus, or will in the coming hours and days. Almost all of them show up with gleaming credentials and spectacular highlight reels. And pretty much all of them have the same goals.
That is, to start right away, to win a national championship or two and to graduate early and/or sign a professional football contract, whichever comes first.
Rashad Roundtree, whose football accolades could stand alongside anybody’s, had those same goals when he showed up at UGA three years ago. He didn’t achieve any of them, which I share that not as an indictment, but as an illustration.
I had the good fortune of talking to Roundtree the other day. He’s doing fine, by the way. Very well, in fact. But he’s not playing football anymore. Never will again.
Roundtree finally hung up the ol’ cleats this year. He didn’t want to; he had to. He was granted a medical disqualification due to multiple concussions. He made the announcement of his “retirement” via Twitter on January 10, just two days after the Bulldogs played Alabama for the national championship.
As tweets go, Roundtree’s was pretty heartwrenching.
As a result of a number of concussions, it is with a heavy heart that I announce that my journey in the path of football has come to an end. As a child, all of my dreams involved playing football and it deeply saddens me that I can’t play anymore…
— CallMeTree (@Rashad_Tr33) January 10, 2018
But you know what? Roundtree is doing all right.
I caught up with him by phone the other day at RaceTrac. No, not at one of the convenience stories. He was working a summer internship at RaceTrac’s sprawling corporate headquarters in Atlanta.
And he was beaming.
“I could see myself working here (full time),” said Roundtree, who was in the midst of a four-week, paid internship along with teammates Chris Barnes, Daniel Harper and Sam Vaughn. “It was great just to get some experience in the working world. Seeing how the company operates on a corporate level has been extremely beneficial to me. Most of the time you just walk into their stores and you don’t see all the hard work a lot of people put in to make sure everything goes like it’s supposed to.
“You feel like you’re part of something and you feel like you’re contributing.”
Roundtree certainly wasn’t getting that feeling on the football field. He played mostly special teams his first two seasons with the Bulldogs and totaled 12 tackles, six in each. He didn’t play at all last year. His career highlight was three tackles and a pass break-up against Auburn as a freshman in 2015.
Suffice it to say, that’s far below the expectations Roundtree had for himself — never mind others — coming out of Lakeside-Evans High. He left his East Georgia hometown with pretty much every football accolade known to man.
Roundtree was a consensus “high 4-star” prospect. He even earned an elusive 5-star rating from Rivals.com, which judged him to be the third best safety in the nation. He was first-team Class AAAAA all-state as both a junior and senior, an AJC Super 11 selection and an Under Armour All-American, with the stats to match. He recorded 164 tackles, 7 interceptions and 2 touchdown returns his last two seasons in high school.
Likewise, virtually every Power 5 football program in the South and quite a few elsewhere came forth with scholarship offers. Kirby Smart offered him one at Alabama. So did Urban Meyer at Ohio State, and Auburn and Florida and Clemson and so on. A high academic achiever as well, Roundtree found himself really liking Duke.
Finally, it was Jeremy Pruitt who closed the deal and brought Roundtree to Georgia. He was a can’t-miss prospect if there ever was one.
Only he did miss.
Even before the concussions became an issue, Roundtree was having a hard time finding his way into the lineup. The Bulldogs even moved him to linebacker the spring of 2017, hoping to find a way to get him on the field and help with depth at the same time. But by the time the throes of the regular season came last year, Roundtree traded in his helmet and shoulder pads for a whistle and clipboard and started helping out the coaches on the practice field.
All the while, Roundtree smiled and did as he was told. But inside he was hurting.
“It’s been hard,” Roundtree said. “Setting football aside and focusing on a professional career has been a challenge. But Georgia has done a great job of giving me support, like this internship opportunity right here. Just because my football career is over doesn’t mean my career is over.”
Through the Bulldogs’ networking initiative known as “The Georgia Way” (called the Paul Oliver Network under former coach Mark Richt), Roundtree was one of four players to land a pretty sweet paid internship at the corporate headquarters of RaceTrac, the Atlanta convenience store behemoth. What was initially supposed to be a two-week mini-internship was stretched into four.
While it put some change in his pocket and gave Roundtree some unforgettable good times with his former teammates — “we’ve had a lot of fun,” he said — it also gave him some much-needed hope for the future.
“It went too quickly. We really don’t want to go,” said Roundtree, dressed business-casual and wearing cowboy boots. “It’s a growing company and it’s fun to be a part of that. It’s almost like another team. Everybody’s got a role. I like it. I’ve got new goals now, and I don’t have a problem waking up in the morning and getting after them.”
The feeling is mutual, according to Roundtree’s employer.
“Rashad has come in and worked really hard and had a really good attitude,” said Rachel Patton, RaceTrac’s university relations specialist. ““What we’ve realized is student-athletes, and specifically football players like Rashad, have qualities that translate really well to the work force, like passion and drive and work ethic. Everybody here just loves him. We hope we can get him in the future.”
As noted, it’s a different type of recruiting that Roundtree will be exposed to now. He hasn’t quite figured out just yet what he’s going to do next, but he still has some time to figure it out. He’ll graduate from UGA with a degree in sport management next May.
That he planned. But Roundtree always thought he’d play professional football first before having to figure out all that other stuff. Coaching seemed like a logical place to go after that.
But now Roundtree knows he’ll have some other options, including a a possible leadership position at a place he previously thought of only when he needed gas or a quick snack.
“When I was being recruiting, my father (Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree) said, ‘if you took football out of it, what school would you want to go to?'” Roundtree recounted. “That was the University of Georgia. It’s unfortunate what happened, but I’m still happy with my decision of going to the University of Georgia. I love what they’ve done for me.”
And this is where those all those highfalutin signees who are just arriving on UGA’s campus need to be sure they were paying attention while hearing all those recruiting pitches just a couple of months ago. Yes, they joined Georgia’s No. 1-rated class and almost every one of them not only was the best player at their school, but in their region and their state as well.
But regardless of pedigree, only 11 get on the field at a time and only about half of the roster will end up living out what would be considered a productive athletic career.
Roundtree has some advice for the latest crop of blue-chippers.
“Just don’t take it for granted,” he said thoughtfully. “Work hard every day and do as much as you can every day. It’s what you love to do and what you’ve been working for. But realize it’s not going to happen for everybody. So use the resources you have. Take advantage of it and try to help those that are trying to help you. Georgia wants to see you succeed.”
That’s not always in football.
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