UGA player facing misdemeanor charges

Georgia defensive tackle Tripp Taylor faces misdemeanor charges stemming from his apparent role in a fight in late May that left two high school students badly beaten.

According to incident reports, the victims – 16- and 17-year-old students at Etowah High School in Canton, Ga. – were attacked by a group of older males while attending a late-night bonfire at Lake Allatoona on May 25.

Taylor, 20, was allegedly among the attackers, although he is accused only of making verbal threats and charged with misdemeanor simple assault. Shane McCleskey, a Murray State football player and Taylor’s high school teammate at Woodstock High, faces more serious charges.

McCleskey, 19, was arrested Saturday on felony aggravated battery and battery charges, as sheriff’s officials believe he inflicted the most severe injuries – including a broken orbital bone around the 16-year-old victim’s eye that required reconstructive surgery.

McCleskey was released on $28,000 bond over the weekend, but Murray State coach Matt Griffin announced Monday that he has been dismissed from the team for violating team rules.

Because Taylor’s role in the brawl remains unclear, Georgia coach Mark Richt is sure to be judicious before meting out punishment – if the walk-on sophomore is to receive punishment at all.

Georgia spokesman Claude Felton said Richt is aware of the incident, telling the Associated Press, “I'm sure he's not going to make any decisions in regard to discipline until he is sure of what all the facts are.”

Sgt. Jay Baker, the public information officer for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, expected Taylor to turn himself in on Monday, but he had not done so as of 4:10 p.m.

“He hasn’t yet, and if it doesn’t happen today, we’ll have to take steps to see what we’re gonna do tomorrow,” Baker said.

The fight reportedly occurred between two groups of young males, totaling as many as 25 people, who were camping at the lake in northwest Georgia. The next day, the victims told police their attackers held a knife to the younger victim’s throat and beat him with a baseball bat.

The incident report states the 17-year-old victim “ran into the woods, where he was found by several other males and stripped of his clothes, punched, kicked and urinated on.”

Because of numerous varying witness accounts, the lengthy investigation has produced only the charges against McCleskey and Taylor, but more arrests could be made in the case. Since the victims didn’t alert authorities until the next day, the identities of many of those involved remain unclear.

Taylor played sparingly as a freshman, appearing in 11 games at defensive tackle, special teams and wham back – a blocking back position Georgia typically uses in short-yardage situations.

However, a strong spring meant Taylor could play a more prominent role this fall. He was named the team’s outstanding defensive walk-on and was listed as Jeff Owens’ backup at defensive tackle at the conclusion of spring practice.

“I want to be on the field as much as possible – D-tackle, wham back, special teams, whatever I can do to make a name for myself," Taylor said in the spring.