When Ealey transferred from Georgia, the Gamecocks appeared to find that missing piece to the once-dominant running game they so seriously were trying to rekindle.
But the depth in that situation has become a little more clouded in recent weeks as Darius (Tig) Barksdale remains suspended pending the resolution of robbery and assault charges in Mississippi stemming from an incident in May.
Barksdale, who transferred from Ole Miss last August and played a role in the Gamecocks’ upset of his former team in the season opener, was being pegged to work alongside Ealey in the JSU backfield with Calvin Middleton providing power at fullback.
For the time being, that’s on hold.
“I’m still waiting to get a read on this,” Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said. “Two pieces of information have put it majorly undecided.
“I am making the assumption that for him to be charged with something I have to see (Barksdale off the team) as a real possibility, but I’m also hearing (conflicting reports) from multiple places. I wouldn’t think it’s time to say, but is he in jeopardy of not being on this football team? I’d say so. But it’s not fair to say either way.”
Mississippi authorities issued warrants for Barksdale in connection with an incident with two other men in a Batesville park May 25 and sent a car to bring him back from Jacksonville last month, about a week after JSU confirmed Ealey’s enrollment in school.
A Panola County court official said Barksdale had appeared in justice court and bonded out. The case has been turned over to the Panola County District Attorney and will be presented to a grand jury to determine if there’s enough evidence to go to trial.
Barksdale, the cousin of former JSU and NFL running back Kory Chapman, was the Gamecocks’ third-leading rusher last season (389 yards) and had 400 all-purpose yards.
“The status for me right now is he is suspended until we get further information,” Crowe said. “He’s not going to be here under any charges, even though they may not be valid. Now, if they’re not valid, he’s got a home here. If they are, he doesn’t.”
As for Ealey, Crowe believes his new addition is going to be a Payton Award Watch List contender.
“He can turn into the face of the program,” Crowe said.
Ealey, who left Georgia after not receiving assurances he was going to be the lead Dawg in that backfield, will be labeled the starter when JSU opens camp Aug. 4 because of what Crowe called the “equity principle.”
Ealey led Georgia in rushing the last two years, collecting 1,528 yards and 14 touchdowns. He scored five touchdowns in a game against Kentucky last season.
The Gamecocks play Kentucky this season Oct. 22.
• HAPPY VALLEY IN ’16?: You had to have seen this one coming.
No sooner had Moose Koegel been hired as JSU’s new athletics director than his alma mater called about playing a football game.
Koegel played at Penn State, where he was a captain his senior year. If the details can be ironed out, the Gamecocks could be going to Happy Valley in 2016 or 2017.
“We’ve got a ways to go on that,” Koegel said after Monday’s board of trustees meeting. “They’ve asked me if I’m interested. That’s where it is right now.”
Interested? The Gamecocks are actively looking for revenue sources to reduce the debt on their stadium refurbishment and fund their other programs, and big-money games are the quickest.
The ideal scenario is to play two a year for a million dollars. That’s what OVC rival Tennessee Tech did last year when it played TCU and Arkansas back-to-back.
In the more immediate time frame, Koegel said he was talking with three other schools he declined to identify — two in the SEC and one in the Big East, none of whom JSU has played before — for one more guarantee game next season. The Gamecocks already have a game scheduled at Florida — for a $500,000 pay day.
“We’re going to do what we can for our program, so we would like it at least to be at a half-million, but we’re always looking to see what we can get,” Koegel said. “All of us are about growing this program. That has to be a given that we’re going to go out there to raise additional funds for institution.”
• RANDOM NOTES: The JSU football team added another Division I transfer to their roster in Sean Watson, a 6-2, 290-pound redshirt freshman from Baylor. Watson, a defensive tackle from Panama City, Fla., was the Gamecocks’ No. 1 recruit in 2010 that the Bears snatched away on signing day. ... Athletic department officials reported their best-ever year academically to the board of trustees Monday. The entire program had a 2.946 cumulative GPA. Volleyball topped the list with a 3.57. Men’s basketball brought up the rear, barely clearing the 2.0 threshold after a 1.72 spring semester. Despite the overall success of the program, five teams had one or more players declared ineligible for the upcoming academic year. ... The women’s basketball team has a guarantee game scheduled at Mississippi State this Nov. 11. ... New volleyball coach Joseph Goodson is expected to be on campus for the first time Wednesday.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577