For more than a week, law enforcement agencies, news outlets, fan bases and social media warriors ran rampant with discussions and opinions on the arrest of Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts on July 31 in Saluda, S.C., on a cocaine possession charge.
With the drug charge now dropped and Werts no longer looking at any further suspension or discipline from his team, the Eagles’ signal caller took to the podium following Saturday morning’s scrimmage at Paulson Stadium to address the whirlwind that he has endured.
“It’s been real hard. It’s been one of the most trying times of my life,” Werts said. “But the truth came out. I’m glad that it came out kind of fast, but it’s been hard to deal with.”
Werts was initially pulled over for speeding near the South Carolina town about 50 miles north of Augusta, but officers then inquired about a substance they observed on the hood of Werts’ car. Werts claimed it was bird droppings that he had previously tried to clean, seemingly to the doubt of the questioning officer.
The arrest report claimed that two field tests turned up positive results for cocaine, leading to the possession charge. However, the Saluda County solicitor general on Thursday stated that no controlled substance was found on the car following further lab testing and that there was no cause to pursue the initial charges.
Still, there remained the fact that what turned out to be an unnecessary arrest put a huge stress on Werts.
“It was rough. I started thinking about everything from football, to my family, to my character,” Werts said. “When I first got out was the only time I cried, in front of my family, thinking I had upset them. But I knew what the truth was. They believed me, and so did coach (Chad Lunsford), and everything that happened since then proved that.”
One theme present throughout Saturday’s extended press conference was the support of Werts through his teammates, coaches and Georgia Southern administrators.
The scheduled first practice of fall camp on Aug. 2 was preceded by Lunsford detailing Werts’ arrest and announcing his suspension from all football related activities at that time. Lunsford and the rest of the athletic department abided by parameters set forth by the university’s student athlete code of conduct in that regard and – even after Werts returned to team activities upon passing a drug screening on Aug. 4 remained silent on the issue until the legal process had run its course.
“Anytime anything happens with any of our guys, I’m not going to blow up,” Lunsford said. “I’m a big believer of sleeping on something and thinking about it. I’m going to find out what was behind something happening, even if it’s being three minutes late to study hall, and then making sure we’re doing right by our guys.”
Werts was notified on Thursday that the drug charge against him would be dropped. Lunsford noted that he was impressed with his quarterback’s focus on the practice field even before word came down about the dropped charges and added that the entire process served as an example that the values and accountability the coaching staff instills throughout the season has been taken to heart by players and can now serve as a valuable lesson moving forward.
As it stands, it would appear that – for the many cries of injustice and demands for apologies and accountability from the Saluda Sheriff’s office now circulating on social media – everyone involved with the team is ready to simply focus on the new football season at hand.
Werts referred all questions about further legal action to his attorney and was much more enthusiastic when talking about his time on the field since being reinstated from his initial suspension than when recalling the arrest or the things he read about himself following the incident.
Lunsford was similarly focused, stating that he believed that the university had done its job to stand by its student athlete and that law enforcement had acted in the manner it thought that it should.
The widespread social media exposure of the incident posed another problem. Countless college football fans saw the details of the arrest and Werts’ interaction with police officers became fodder for national audiences. As is the usual trend, fan bases of rival teams and upcoming Georgia Southern opponents have also been closely following the proceedings and chiming in about Werts on social media.
“I’m still going to show up and do my job,” Werts said. “They can do all of the talking. We still have to show up and play.”
Werts ended by thanking the support that he received from all around over the course of his tumultuous week. “I didn’t really know how much support I had in Statesboro and back home,” Werts said. “But they were behind me every step of the way. I got so many messages on text, Twitter, Facebook - I can’t respond to them all, but I want everyone to know that I’ve seen that and I appreciate all the support.”
Werts has resumed his spot heading up the Georgia Southern offense and contributed a 6-yard touchdown run during Saturday’s scrimmage.
The Eagle quarterback faced and answered all questions asked about his arrest Saturday and now looks forward to preparing for the upcoming season.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 486-4755