UM working to limit fallout on recruiting

Maryland aims to keep 2003 football class intact after possible violation

Coaching staff `very proactive'

Assistant's resignation, self-reporting seen as key to softening NCAA blow

College Football

February 05, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, Lem Satterfield and Christian Ewell | Kevin Van Valkenburg, Lem Satterfield and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - The University of Maryland has been working to keep its football recruiting class intact after acknowledging it is conducting a review of a possible recruiting violation, which sources say involved an assistant coach giving a little more than $300 to a prominent Gilman School player.

The university also has taken measures to minimize any potential penalties from the NCAA. Maryland expects to complete an investigation within the next two weeks before passing its findings to the NCAA, which can then issue a ruling based on the school's information or choose to look into the matter further.

Several recruits who have orally committed to play for Maryland said yesterday that they had been contacted by members of the coaching staff and made aware of the situation. On Monday, a source in Maryland's athletic department confirmed that linebackers coach Rod Sharpless resigned after allegedly giving cash to Victor Abiamiri, who is considered one of the country's top high school defensive ends.

Abiamiri, who sources said eventually returned the money, announced yesterday that he will sign with Notre Dame.

One Terps recruit said he read about the incident on the Internet and later heard from Maryland. "I got a call from Coach [Gary] Blackney and one from Coach [Ralph] Friedgen," said Andrew Crummey, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound offensive lineman from Van Wert, Ohio, who has orally committed to the Terps. "They wanted to let me know they had a secondary violation and were conducting an investigation, but that it wasn't indicative of their program. ...

"I was impressed by their honesty. I think they were very proactive. I was shocked when I heard about it, but it doesn't change my commitment at all."

Maryland's coaching staff also wanted to make sure another school didn't try to talk a recruit out of signing with the Terps because of the possible violation. That's exactly what several schools tried to do with Dunbar (D.C.) recruit Vernon Davis, one of the top tight end prospects in the country who committed to Maryland last week, according to his high school coach.

"[Other] schools called," said Craig Jefferies, Davis' coach. "Virginia and West Virginia called, and his grandmother had a bunch of calls. They all tried to say bad things. They tried to compare it to the situations at Alabama [banned from bowl games for two years for recruiting violations] and they tried to give the worst-case scenario of what could happen and exaggerate the punishment. ... I was disappointed, especially with Virginia."

Jefferies said Davis, who chose Maryland over the University of Florida, was standing by his commitment to the Terps.

"[Davis] didn't question his decision at all," Jefferies said.

Michael Jefferson, the father of Gwynn Park's Wesley Jefferson, said his son wasn't contacted by any other schools and that he was still headed to Maryland. Signing Jefferson, a 6-2, 231-pound linebacker, reportedly was Maryland's No. 1 priority behind Abiamiri.

"It didn't change his opinion," Michael Jefferson said. "I didn't think it was a big deal."

None of the recruits contacted by The Sun said Sharpless or any other Maryland coach offered money to sign with the university. "No one offered me anything at any point," said Dan Gronkowski, a quarterback from Williamsville, N.Y.

While it's possible Maryland continued to recruit Abiamiri for several days, a source suggested the football staff stopped recruiting him before the beginning of this week. Maryland's athletic department, unsullied by NCAA violations since the school's men's basketball program suffered sanctions in 1990, brought in representatives from the suburban Kansas City law firm Bond, Schoenick and King to conduct the investigation.

The law firm specializes in assisting schools in their NCAA investigations, including widespread academic fraud in the Minnesota men's basketball program in the late 1990s. Maryland's probe is not expected to unearth infractions of that scale, but the school still viewed the hiring of the firm as important.

"We wanted to be as accurate and professional as we could be," one source said.

While some athletes like Chris Wilson - a former highly rated Catonsville High prospect whom Sharpless recruited but eventually chose Penn State - hadn't yet been contacted by the law firm as part of the investigation, the initial feedback to the school indicates the violation was an isolated incident.

With Sharpless' resignation, by stopping its recruitment of Abiamiri, and by reporting itself to the NCAA, Maryland is hoping it would receive minimal sanctions for the alleged infraction.

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