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Oregon’s Blount deserves his return to the field

Running back made a mistake and served his punishment. Dave Miller

Print This November 19, 2009, 10:55 AM EST

Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount didn’t play in last Saturday night’s 44-21 win over Arizona State at Autzen Stadium.

But he was dressed, in full pads on the sideline and grateful just to be with his teammates again on a college football Saturday — even if he was buried on the Ducks’ depth chart.

Blount has come a long way since being reinstated Nov. 9 after being suspended for punching Boise State defensive end Byron Hout following a season-opening loss.

The preseason Heisman Trophy contender missed eight contests before the university requested his reinstatement, which was obliged by the Pac-10. During the suspension, Blount was allowed to keep his scholarship and practice with the team, and head coach Chip Kelly said that a return to the field could be in the future if certain academic and behavioral conditions, which were kept private, were met.

After apologizing to the team again and expressing in a statement that he was grateful for the second chance, Blount was a renewed Duck.

He would finally have his chance in Eugene to reassert himself on the national stage before a packed house at rowdy Autzen.

Well, not quite.

Blount, who rushed for 1,002 yards last season, has become a forgotten man with the emergence of redshirt freshman LaMichael James and other capable backups, falling to as low as fifth on the depth chart. The 5-foot-9 James has rushed for 1,193 yards and 11 scores in Blount’s absence, becoming the first Ducks freshman to reach the 1,000-yard mark.

Despite his tumble down the depth chart, however, business for Blount may be about to pick up in a big way. He’s received a steady diet of reps this week with James out due to illness and backup Kenjon Barner nursing various ailments. The Ducks play at Arizona on Saturday before returning home for the Civil War game against Oregon State. Might his senior status and work this week prompt Kelly to insert him into the game early?

For all that was and is being said about Blount, I look forward to his return. I know I’m in the minority, especially if a poll were taken in Boise, Idaho. But I was stunned when Blount was initially suspended for the season because I didn’t think he warranted a yearlong ban in his final season of eligibility.

What he did that early September night in Boise was so clearly wrong and there is no justifying the act.

But put yourself in Blount’s position on the field after a tough loss to a team that — in a matter of two seasons — became one of your biggest nemeses. If you’re running on adrenaline and Byron Hout comes up to you, most likely says something not to the tune of “Great game, bro” and makes physical contact, wouldn’t you become just a bit perturbed?

Throwing a punch was in no way justified. No person in his or her right mind could make a defense for that kind of response. But we’re human, and we make mistakes. Two grown college football players running on adrenaline after playing a competitive violent game, and you think a violent act — right or wrong — isn’t in the realm of possibility?

Think back to when you went to a bar or a house party in college (if those nights can be remembered), and after a few hours and a few drinks someone crossed you in even the slightest way. Say, a jerk in a polo shirt wearing too much cologne. Perhaps he bumps into you by accident on his way to the restroom. Are you retaliating in some way? Hopefully, not with a punch, but I doubt a person would remain quiet. Too much of a stretch?

What if 21-year-old John Smith punched 21-year-old Tom Jones at a local campus bar for hitting on his girlfriend? Is he getting reprimanded as harshly as Blount? Suspended from intramurals and other campus activities?

I’m thinking not.

Blount’s altercation with the fans on his way to the locker room? Terrible, even if provoked. But again, it was a mistake. And collegians make them.

I understand that college athletes have a wide variety of special privileges that regular students attending the university can only dream of — including scholarships (for non-walk-ons) that ease the incredible financial burden of attending school.

But as hard as it is for us to grasp sometimes, these athletes not only have to carry a similar course load as non-athletes, but they deal with practices, team meetings, extra study sessions and games that make it very difficult to even have the social lives that today’s collegians enjoy.

Now I’m aware of some of the “course loads” that are available to athletes — I saw some of the basketball players’ schedules at my university when I was in school. I get that not everyone majors in molecular engineering. My point is that being a college kid — student-athlete or not — is hard enough, and all of us had and have our own personal growth to achieve in four short years (longer if you’re Van Wilder).

LeGarrette Blount made a mistake just like so many of us have made in the past. Put yourself in his cleats. Formerly catered-to top-draft prospect or not, isn’t he deserving of a clean slate?

Dave Miller is the Web Manager of the National Football Post. He enjoys coffee at any time of the day, CW teen dramas and has an appreciation for girls in boots. You can follow him on Twitter at Miller_Dave, where he constantly chronicles every moment of his mundane life.

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