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Athletes in trouble
2007-08 was a troublesome year for Gwinnett's prep athletes. Is it coincidence, or are societal pressures taking a toll?

Perhaps you've read the accusations: The BB gun incident, the shoplifting charge, the more ghastly allegations of child molestation and rape.

The 2007-08 school year marked a troublesome trend for Gwinnett's prep athletes. At least eight basketball and football players - among them a McDonald's All-American - from the Gwinnett County Public Schools system were locked up on a variety of charges.

The incidents bring into question the dichotomy of media coverage between athletes and their student counterparts, but also the responsibility of athletes themselves, as representatives of entire communities, to keep clean even when the spotlight is off.

"If you're at the mall or a restaurant as a Parkview football player or North Gwinnett basketball player, you're that 24 hours," said former Norcross AD Mike Emery, now the athletics, activities and community schools director for Gwinnett. "You have to accept that responsibility. It just comes with the territory."

Some experts argue the local allegations are evidence of a trickle-down from the professional ranks. Others point to an increasingly bloodthirsty media eager for athletes to slip up.

It's not just the usual, ultra-famous suspects anymore. Sure, fallen Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick languishes in federal prison on a dogfighting conviction. Atlanta native Adam "Pacman" Jones, now a Dallas Cowboy, wrestles with a cycle of allegations involving fights at strip clubs and gunplay. But even Indianapolis Colts wide-receiver Marvin Harrison - the quintessential NFL nice-guy - finds himself embroiled in controversy over an alleged shooting in his native Philadelphia.

Dacula athletic director and head football coach Kevin Maloof said the national controversy hits home.

"It starts with the pros and filters to college and now it's at the high school level," said Maloof. "If and when a high profile athlete gets in trouble, it's going to be in the (local) newspaper.

"Is it fair? I don't know. But that's the world we live in now."

Widespread accusations

Arrested athletes this year weren't relegated to schools in a particular segment of Gwinnett. From Brookwood to North Gwinnett, charges ranging from simple misdemeanors to high-level felonies carrying mandatory sentences of 25 years disrupted teen lives.

Perhaps no athlete has been affected like John Luke Walker, a backup wide receiver and defensive back at perennial football powerhouse Brookwood. While his prep counterparts in Gwinnett have posted bond following arrests dating back to October, Walker has remained in the Gwinnett County Jail since early March. His arraignment is expected in the next month.

Family described the 17-year-old as a typical, amiable Southern teen. Prosecutors tell a different story, alleging Walker sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl in Lilburn after a party in February, then lied to police about it. The teen was indicted this week on charges of aggravated child molestation and false statements.

A handful of Walker's friends who visit him in jail declined comment for this story. After openly declaring his innocence upon his arrest, the teen's family and attorney have also shunned the media.

Walker isn't alone in his brush with the law.

In October, Berkmar's Isaiah Jupiter, the county's leading wide-receiver, was accused of shoplifting from a Gwinnett business (his family denies he stole items). North Gwinnett hoops standout Ebuka Anyaorah, a University of Georgia signee, was picked up at a Suwanee Wal-Mart in February on charges of disorderly conduct.

The felony cases, like Walker's, have had a more lasting impact.

Berkmar football players Shakie Doe-Williams and Bobby Harris face counts of rape, child molestation and aggravated child molestation after a 15-year-old classmate claimed the two cornered her while Harris raped her March 4 in her Lilburn apartment. Defense attorneys argue the sex was consensual.

And Norcross hoops players Al-Farouq Aminu - a McDonald's All-American - Prince Kent (also a heavily recruited junior football player) and Quintin Square are awaiting possible court hearings on felony aggravated assault charges. Police say the teens shot a Norcross woman in the stomach with a BB gun March 14 in a drive-off shooting.

Coverage of the athletes' arrests hasn't gone without criticism.

"I hate it when it gets out in the media and gives a negative view of the school," Maloof said. "At the same time, when you do something wrong, you should be held accountable."

Pressure the culprit?

David Greene knows off-field pressure. With arguably the state's hottest spotlight pointed squarely at him as a four-year starting quarterback at Georgia, the former All-SEC standout watched his step, picked his pals wisely. His discretion paid off.

Greene navigated the gauntlet of teenage temptation, graduated from South Gwinnett in 2000, and eventually chiseled his name as the NCAA's all-time winningest quarterback in Division I football.

It wasn't easy, Greene admits. Societal tripwires greet today's prep athletes that weren't always there. And in the rarefied air occupied by today's premiere athletes, somebody - if not the media, somebody - is always rearing to shoot you down, he said.

"You're a role model, regardless if you want to be or not," said Greene, who's vying for playing time this season with the Kansas City Chiefs. "If you're playing for South Gwinnett, Parkview, Brookwood, whoever, there are little kids running around on Friday nights in high school jerseys that want to be you.

"When you leave high school, you want those kids to still look up to you."

Teen delinquency, especially in scholarship athletes, can be linked to societal pressures and the changing, more aggressive nature of our culture, said Dr. Holly Haynes, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Georgia Gwinnett College.

Haynes said the "Millennial Generation," an extension of Generation E, generally feels more entitled than other groups, that their actions might not spawn consequences.

"For athletes, there's a lot of pressure to succeed, and not much help when you don't succeed. It's kind of like we'll move on to the next person," said Haynes. "It can lead to a lot of self-doubt."

When the going gets rough, Haynes said, teens sometimes rely on violence as a viable outlet, especially teens reared on video games and music that glorifies crime.

"There's a lot of pressure on (athletes). That can add up, especially when you're not used to failing," she said. "It can lead to a lot of aggression, and that has to come out in some way."

Illegal behavior can have repercussions beyond the penal system.

Gwinnett Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said students can face suspension or expulsion, depending on the severity of alleged crimes, even when the missteps occur off school property.

School policy defines "community misconduct" as off-campus behavior that could result in a felony charge and "make the student's continued presence at school a potential danger."

Advice from the top

Maloof, the Dacula AD, said athletics serves a greater purpose than decorating trophy cases - it's a foundation for life.

"(It's) not about winning state championships," he said. "It's about what you can teach kids about life to be successful."

Haynes, of Georgia Gwinnett College, offers advice for athletes buckling under pressure to succeed: Remember that failure can be a good thing. Learn from it. Build off it.

"To strive to succeed is a good characteristic, but understand sometimes you will lose," said Haynes. "Take some time to de-stress, to hang out with friends or have low-key activities."

So what advice can Greene, the pro, offer?

For starters, he said, keep a low profile in public and steer clear of shady characters.

"As an athlete you have to understand that you're going to be held to a higher standard," Greene said. "It's like my dad used to tell me: 'Your name is all that you got.'

"What's on the back of that jersey is you."

SideBar: Case updates

Al-Farouq Aminu

Prince Kent

Quintin Square

School: Norcross

Sport: Basketball; Kent also plays football

Noteworthy: Aminu, a McDonald's All-American, has signed with Wake Forest. Kent has several scholarship offers from major Division I football programs

Charges: All three face one felony count of aggravated assault and related misdemeanors

Arrested: Late March

Synopsis: Police say the teens shot a Norcross woman in the stomach with a BB gun March 14 in a drive-off shooting. The woman suffered minor injuries and her car was damaged.

The latest: Each teen posted $3,500 bond the day after their arrests. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are discussing moving the case forward without an indictment, Tom Ludlam, Assistant District Attorney, said this week. "That doesn't mean the charges will be dismissed," Ludlam said. "It could end up in a courtroom." He gave no timetable for possible court appearances.

Ebuka Anyaorah

School: North Gwinnett

Sport: Basketball (forward)

Noteworthy: Signed with University of Georgia

Charge: Disorderly conduct

Arrested: Feb. 20

Synopsis: Anyaorah was arrested at a Suwanee Wal-Mart after he allegedly rough-housed with two other teens in the sports department. The teens broke shelving after they began fighting each other with boxing gloves they had not purchased, police said.

The latest: Anyaorah posted $375 bond on Feb. 21. In this case, police considered the bond amount the fine. "It's disposed of, as far as we are concerned," said Suwanee police spokesman Capt. Clyde Byers.

Bobby Harris

Shakie Doe-Williams

School: Berkmar

Sport: Football (both play offense, defense)

Charges: Both face counts of rape, child molestation and aggravated child molestation

Arrested: March 12

Synopsis: Prosecutors say the 17-year-olds played a role in the March 4 rape of a 15-year-old classmate at her apartment. Harris is accused of forcing intercourse with the girl; Doe-Williams is charged with aiding and abetting the alleged rape. Defense attorneys for the teens maintain the sex was consensual.

The latest: A judge granted Harris and Doe-Williams a $15,000 bond March 28, two weeks after their arrests. Assistant District Attorney Teresa Klein, who is prosecuting the case, said this week an investigator from her office is prepping the case for a possible indictment.

Isaiah Jupiter

School: Berkmar

Sport: Football (wide-receiver)

Noteworthy: Signed with Valdosta State University

Charge: Shoplifting

Arrested: Oct. 24, 2007

Synopsis: Jupiter, the county's leader in receiving yards last season, was charged with shoplifting from a Gwinnett business in October. His family denied that he stole any items.

The latest: Jupiter's case went into diversion in October, and he completed terms of that diversion the following month. The case was closed Jan. 25 this year, according to the Gwinnett County Solicitor's Office.

John Walker

School: Brookwood

Sport: Football (wide-receiver, defensive back)

Charges: Aggravated child molestation, false statements

Arrested: March 5

Synopsis: Walker, 17, is charged with having sex with a 14-year-old girl after a February party in Lilburn, causing her physical injury. Police later found the girl unconscious. Authorities said Walker lied to them during interviews. Walker's parents and attorney have downplayed the charges, calling the incident typical teen behavior overblown by the alleged victim.

The latest: A Gwinnett grand jury indicted Walker on charges of aggravated child molestation and false statements Wednesday. His arraignment is expected in the next month. He has remained in the Gwinnett County Jail - save for a short, court-approved reprieve to attend a family wedding - since March 5.