Fullback Soto is ruled ineligible by Nebraska

January 01, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Staff Correspondent

MIAMI -- Nebraska fullback Omar Soto was looking forward to tonight's Federal Express Orange Bowl game against Miami. It was going to be a part reunion, part redemption.

But now it won't happen.

Soto, a fifth-year senior from Miami, was ruled ineligible yesterday by Nebraska and the 9-1-1 Cornhuskers likely will have to forfeit two league victories as well as their share of the Big Eight championship.

Soto admitted yesterday that he played briefly at Mount San Antonio Junior College during the 1986 season before playing two seasons at Arizona Western and the last two at Nebraska. While Soto claims he only played in intra-squad scrimmages at Mount San Antonio, an assistant coach at the school said that Soto did play.

"I never told anybody at Nebraska because I knew it might cause some problems," Soto told the Palm Beach Post.

James O'Hanlon, Nebraska's representative to the NCAA, said yesterday that a preliminary investigation by the university backed up the coach's claim that Soto had appeared in two games while at Mount San Antonio, carrying eight times for a total of 13 yards.

Janet Justus, the NCAA's director of eligibility, said yesterday that Soto has "two problems if this is true." Justus said that the five-year clock during which a player can play four years would have run out, even if he did not play. If he did play at Mount San Antonio, that means he would have played more than the allotted four years.

An NCAA spokesman said last night that Nebraska can appeal the forfeitures of victories against Iowa State and Oklahoma. If the school is found not to have known of Soto's brief career at Mount San Antonio, the two victories as well as the share of the Big Eight championship will be returned.

The news surrounding Soto, who was injured earlier this season and has been used as a backup to Lance Lewis, sent shock waves through the Nebraska team as it prepared for the top-ranked Hurricanes.

"Obviously the timing couldn't be any worse," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said at yesterday's regularly scheduled news conference, a few hours before Soto was declared ineligible. "Why it happened before the game, I'll guess I'll never know.

"He told me he went to San Jacinto, not Mount San Antonio. It was my impression that he never went to class. The last thing the University of Nebraska is going to do is to play a player that even has a hint of concern about his eligibility."

Soto had expected 60 friends and relatives to attend tonight's game. His mother was expected to watch him play for the first time tonight, and Soto had wanted to make up for the two blowout bowl defeats he had played in the past two years.

"I don't want to jeopardize my teammates," he said. "I'm sure if it's a concern of theirs they'd hold me out."

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