ATHENS, Ga. — Sometime in March, while A.J. Green was on spring break, he got a Facebook message. Chris Hawkins, who had befriended the Georgia star receiver on the website, asked whether he could purchase one of Green’s jerseys, offering $1,000.
“It was spring break. So, you know, extra cash,” Green said. “So I didn’t really think about it, that it was a big deal. So I did it.”
As it turned out, Green’s action turned the course of his junior season — and perhaps Georgia’s as well.
Green was suspended four games after the NCAA got wind of the transaction — by reading through Green’s bank statements, he divulged Tuesday. The Bulldogs (1-3) have struggled in Green’s absence, a fact he said eats at him.
“I feel like I caused a lot of people pain,” Green said. “Because if I was out there some of the time, we would’ve had a chance of coming out (better). I’ve beaten myself up pretty much because of that. This has taught me a valuable lesson. I’m growing up, and I’ve got to do the right thing.”
Green is eligible to return to the field Saturday at Colorado. But in his first public comments since the suspension, he also shed some light on the events that led to it.
The NCAA first became interested in July when it was investigating players at other schools for reportedly attending an agent-sponsored party in Miami. Green said the NCAA told him they heard he might have been at the party based on a report on the gossip website TMZ.
“I didn’t go on that trip. I didn’t know anything about it,” Green said. “When the NCAA told me about it, they said they heard about it through TMZ. Nobody told them, it was a rumor. So they came down here and asked me.”
When told of Green’s comments, NCAA spokesman Stacey Osbourn had no comment or response to Green.
According to Green, the NCAA asked for Green’s bank statements going back to February 2009. He handed them over, and in August, a week before the season started, the NCAA asked Green about the $1,000.
“They looked and saw that, and said, ‘Hey where’d you get the money from,’ ” Green said. “I told them. I’m not going to lie to them or anything like that to even jeopardize my whole season. So I just told them.”
A week later, Georgia announced it was holding Green out of the Louisiana-Lafayette game, pending an NCAA ruling. That came the next week when the NCAA suspended Green four games, including the one game already served. His appeal was turned down a week later.
Now, feeling partially responsible for the team’s struggles, Green is anxious to get back on the field.
“I’m going to go get loose out there,” the Summerville, S.C., native said. “All this that I worked so hard (for), and I had to miss four games. This offseason was probably one of my best offseasons, I felt like. And just getting better and stronger and faster. And now’s the time to show what I’ve been missing.”
Georgia’s offense has suffered without the 6-foot-4 All-America candidate. The Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in scoring, and while the pass offense has been better lately, the lack of a consistent downfield threat has hindered the team.
Coach Mark Richt has taken pains not to use Green’s absence as an excuse. But he granted Tuesday that defenses will now have to adjust.
“We’ve seen a lot of different looks toward wherever A.J. (would have) lined up,” Richt said.
Freshman quarterback Aaron Murray is relieved to now be able to throw to Green when it counts. Green has been allowed to practice with the team throughout his suspension.
“It gets a little sad sometimes,” Murray said. “I don’t even want to throw him the ball, because I’m like, ‘Man I don’t even want to throw to him right now, because it’s just going to make me a little upset that I can’t throw to him on Saturdays.’ ”
Fellow receiver Tavarres King speculated that Green’s presence would open up opportunities for King and other receivers. And he agreed that it gives the team a sense of starting anew.
“Definitely, that does spark a little bit of hope,” King said. “One player isn’t going to change the outcome of a game, but he can sure make some noise.”
Green said he never met Hawkins or even spoke on the phone to him. The NCAA classified Hawkins — who is facing drug-trafficking charges in Georgia — as an agent. Hawkins has denied being an agent or working for one.
As for Green, he said he has “paid my price” and is ready to play again.
“It was just a painful process,” he said. “I’m not a guy that ever got in trouble here. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep, to think about stuff like that. It was just a painful process. I’m just glad that it’s over.”