Most teams beginning fall football camp will talk about the strides they hope to take in the first week as they build towards the beginning of a new season.
After one of the most whirlwind weeks in Georgia Southern Football history, the Eagles are just glad to be back where they started - namely, that they can call Shai Werts their starting quarterback.
Early Friday morning, Georgia Southern released a statement acknowledging that Werts had been officially cleared of a cocaine possession charge stemming from a July 31 arrest in Saluda, S.C. Furthermore, the team stated that - upon receiving official word of the dropped charges - Werts would not be subject to any further disciplinary action.
“We were elated to get the news (of the dropped charge),” Georgia Southern Director of Athletics Tom Kleinlein said during a Friday press conference. “The actions described (in the arrest charges) are not conducive to what we’ve seen in this young man for three years.”
Werts was initially pulled over and arrested for speeding. While he was detained, arresting officers noticed a substance on the hood of Werts’ car. When the officers didn’t believe Werts’ assertions that the hood was covered in bird droppings, a pair of field drug tests were run.
Werts was initially suspended from all football related activities. However, he returned to Statesboro Aug. 2 and submitted to a drug screening. When he passed, he was reinstated and has been practicing with the team since Aug. 4.
The arrest report stated that both tests came back positive for cocaine, but on Thursday the Saluda County solicitor general informed Werts and his legal council that there was no controlled substance found on the vehicle and that the cocaine possession charge would be dropped.
Given the charges named in the arrest and Werts’ unique and unorthodox explanation of the origin of the substance on his car hood, last week saw multiple national media outlets and a huge social media presence weigh in on the case.
Werts and the university remained silent - and adamant about Werts’ denial of being in possession of an illegal drug - abiding by Georgia Southern’s student athlete code of conduct and its guidelines for such an incident.
Plenty of assumptions and ridicule were aimed in Werts’ direction, but Friday served as a vindication for what had to be one of the more trying week’s of the redshirt junior’s life.
“What struck me was how he conducted himself, even when he knew that what was going on wasn’t right,” Kleinlein said, referring to Werts’ actions as captured on video of the arrest. “At the end of the day, he’s going to move forward. And the best way to get back to who he is is to get back to work and continue to be a leader. By doing that, he’ll change any perceptions.”
Werts is expected to make his first public comments about his arrest and the subsequent legal ongoings following Saturday’s preseason scrimmage at Paulson Stadium. Following the interview, Georgia Southern and Werts plan to speak no further on the ordeal, stating that the legal process has run its course and that Werts and the team are now looking forward to the beginning of the new season.
Georgia Southern is set to begin the 2019 regular season Aug. 31 when it travels to Baton Rouge, La. to take on LSU.