July 20, 2005
ATLANTA - The recent arrest and indictment of senior cornerback Reuben Houston on drug conspiracy charges stunned the Georgia Tech football team and cost the Yellow Jackets their third projected defensive starter.
Houston was suspended from school and the team immediately after his June 21 arrest for conspiracy to distribute and to posses with the intent to distribute marijuana. Houston allegedly was driving in a car with 94 pounds of marijuana in Atlanta on Feb. 12, according to the complaint.
Houston was in an Atlanta courthouse June 22 for a bond hearing. He was released on $30,000 bond, posted by his mother, Patricia Houston.
More than a dozen teammates, including tailback P.J. Daniels, quarterback Reggie Ball and defensive end Eric Henderson, packed the courthouse. Though they declined to talk at the time, some teammates have been spoken about the arrest and its impact.
"That's our teammate. That's like a family member. If anything happened to one of your family members, you'd be there," Daniels told the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame's Pigskin Preview in July.
Daniels said he had spoken with Houston. He reported that the cornerback, who was indicted in California on June 30, was in good spirits. Thus far, 19 people have been indicted in relation to the marijuana distribution ring.
In the wake of Houston's arrest, the Tech coaching staff quietly conducted an internal investigation, hoping to uncover any other connections. According to the complaint, Houston drove teammate Sam Williams' SUV to meet the vehicle carrying the marijuana. Houston also arrived carrying a small child.
No other players were arrested in connection with the crime and, at this point, no other players have been suspended or disciplined by the team or the school.
Houston, a fifth-year senior, is more than likely finished at Tech. He started every game during the last two seasons and played in every game over the last three years. In 38 games, Houston had 151 tackles, including 11 for loss, and three sacks. He also had seven interceptions and 14 pass break-ups.
Houston was projected as a potential second-round NFL draft pick before his arrest. Without him, easily the team's best cornerback, the Yellow Jackets' depth in the defensive backfield obviously would take a hit. Houston and junior Kenny Scott, last year's starters, were projected to man those spots again this year.
Dennis Davis, who started the first three games last year before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, will take Houston's spot in the starting lineup. Sophomore Jamal Lewis showed promise during spring practice and is likely to be the team's third cornerback. He led the Yellow Jackets with 10 special-teams tackles last year.
Houston's absence clouds the situation in nickel and dime packages as well. Houston, at 6-0 and 190 pounds, was among the Yellow Jackets' most physical cornerbacks, allowing him to play inside against three-wideout sets.
Now Scott or Lewis could move inside, or safety Chris Reis (moved back from linebacker this spring) could move down into a position he played last year. However, moving Reis could be a giveaway for offenses, and it's not as if Tech has many great options at safety, which was one reason for moving Reis in the first place.
The loss of Houston was the latest blow to a defense that was expected to be among the top units in the country. Tackle Darryl Richard (knee) was lost for the season during spring practice. End Travis Parker was dismissed from school for academic reasons.
The troubles on the line forced Tech to move offensive guard Mansfield Wrotto, a starter at defensive tackle for the last two seasons, back to the defensive line. Fortunately for the Yellow Jackets, the likely replacements for Richard (Wrotto), Parker (Adamm Oliver) and Houston (Davis) all have been starters in the past.
The loss of all three does hurt depth, something the Yellow Jackets have been without for the last several years, and not only on defense. Without Wrotto, the depth-challenged offensive line is down a potential starter as well.
The decision to move Wrotto was helped in part by the return to health of center Kevin Tuminello. He missed the final two games of last season and spring practice with a lingering ankle injury that required surgery. But Tuminello is getting close to 100 percent, allowing sophomore Nathan McManus to move to guard and Wrotto to shift to defense.
The Yellow Jackets also received good news when Omar Billy, a reserve defensive tackle, was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA. Billy, who appeared in five games last year, will play his final season this fall.
Billy did not play in any games in 2001, but the paperwork for a redshirt season was never submitted. After several attempts by Billy to get another year of eligibility, the NCAA finally relented and granted the extra year.
CRITTENTON'S COMMITMENT CRUCIAL
Even as the Georgia Tech basketball staff attempted to shore up its roster for the upcoming season, it added its first commitment for 2006-07 - and it was a big one. Atlanta product Javaris Crittenton, a 6-3 point guard considered a top-40 prospect, committed to the Yellow Jackets in early July, giving Tech its first commitment for next year's class.
Crittenton made the announcement at the Adidas Superstar Camp in Suwanee, Ga., then earned MVP status in the event's all-star game. Crittenton's decision solidifies the point guard position, a place where Tech is lacking depth without 2004-05 signee Austin Jackson, who signed a baseball-only contract with the New York Yankees.
Crittenton, a former high school teammate of Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, has been the Yellow Jackets' top target for a while. Landing him should open the door for other top players to follow, perhaps easing the concerns of Tech fans who have been worrying about the stellar classes Duke and North Carolina have amassed recently.
Without Jackson and point guard Jarrett Jack, who recently left for the NBA after his junior season, the Yellow Jackets are down to nine scholarship players for 2005-06. As a result, Tech's recruiting efforts for the upcoming campaign stretched into late summer.
Among the targets is Papa "Paco" Diaw, the younger brother of Atlanta Hawks guard Boris Diaw. The younger Diaw, a 6-7 swingman, played high school ball at Greater Atlanta Adventist Academy. It's difficult to find much additional information on Diaw, who is likely to need some time to develop into an ACC-caliber player.
That might not be all bad, of course. The Yellow Jackets surprised recruiting experts in the summer of 2001 with their very late addition of Luke Schenscher from Australia, and the little-known center gradually became a solid, productive player over the past four seasons.