ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech officials expressed surprise Tuesday that an offensive lineman has alleged that head football coach George O'Leary tried to make him quit at the end of practice Sept. 25.
Teammates described lineman Dustin Vaitekunas as soft, and both O'Leary and Tech director of athletics Dave Braine said the incident had been blown out of proportion by Vaitekunas, whom they said has withdrawn from classes. He has apparently quit the team.
"I can understand his quitting," said senior offensive tackle Chris Brown. "He was a very soft person ... didn't have a lot of heart. Every coach that has coached has done the same thing."
Vaitekunas' mother, Wanda Charpring, did not answer phone calls to their residence in Chapin, S.C., on Tuesday.
The allegations center around a drill at the end of the practice, when Vaitekunas was handed a football and placed six yards away from defensive linemen Greg Gathers, Merrix Watson, Nick Rogers and Felipe Claybrooks. Vaitekunas was placed in the role of quarterback. O'Leary blew his whistle, and the four defenders rushed Vaitekunas, hitting him and knocking him to the ground. He lay there for several minutes and was tended to by athletic trainers.
"I never meant for them to hit him," said O'Leary, who said the defensive linemen were supposed to pull up short of hitting Vaitekunas, who is 6-foot-7 and weighs 314 pounds. "We never hit the quarterback in practice. They were supposed to front him. It probably wasn't communicated very well on my part."
The drill was repeated with another offensive lineman, backup tackle Jason Kemble, without incident.
"After they tackled (Vaitekunas), I told them they weren't supposed to tackle him," O'Leary said.
Vaitekunas, still listed second on the Yellow Jackets' depth chart at right tackle, has not practiced since the incident. O'Leary said afterward he had a radio show to do and left shortly after practice that night.
"I checked with our trainers, and they said everything was fine," said O'Leary, who added that he was not aware of any problem until Vaitekunas did not show up for practice the next day.
Other players defended O'Leary.
"There was nothing excessive," said Brown. "The whole situation was just a learning process in practice. He blew the whole thing out of proportion. He hadn't been practicing or playing very well. We had another guy who went through the same thing."
Gathers said O'Leary yelled for the defenders to pull up, but only two of the four heard the coach. He added that Vaitekunas did not prepare himself to be hit.
"Kemble protected himself," said Gathers. "Dustin just stood there. If we'd have hit him at full speed, it probably would have broken something. I didn't think it would lead to all these accusations."
O'Leary reiterated Tuesday that he was trying to give the linemen an idea of the speed with which defensive linemen can reach the quarterback.
"I wonder if anybody has asked (quarterback) George Godsey's parents how they feel about that drill," said Braine. "I don't think there was any intent to hurt this young man or run him off."
Braine said no comparisons could be made between this situation and the ones involving former Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight earlier this year.
"You can't even put George O'Leary's name in the same sentence with Bobby Knight," said Braine. "I'm a big George O'Leary fan, and I'll protect him as long as I feel like he did the right thing. In this case I think he has."
Wanda Charpring said in published reports Tuesday that she plans to file criminal charges against O'Leary with the Georgia Tech police department, but Braine said after a noon press conference that none had been made.
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