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FHSAA formally investigates Tampa Catholic after second recruiting charge

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Thu. March 13, 2014 | Matt Baker | Email

FHSAA formally investigates Tampa Catholic after second recruiting charge

Another recruiting allegation against Tampa Catholic — including an offer “too good to pass up” — helped expand the Florida High School Athletic Association’s ongoing formal investigation into the Crusaders’ athletic department.

The FHSAA notified Tampa Catholic last month that an investigator will review the school for possible violations for the second time in three years, FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers said Thursday morning.

That notice came a week after Sunlake became the second Pasco County school to accuse Tampa Catholic of recruiting football players.

Two freshmen told Sunlake officials that Crusaders coaches watched their youth league football games and asked them about transferring to Tampa Catholic, according to documents obtained by the Tampa Bay Times through an open-records request. Although neither played for the Seahawks last year, they were expected to play on the JV team this fall.

“Both stated a Tampa Catholic coach came to their houses with scholarship offers and (they) would have better scholarship opportunities by leaving Pasco County,” Sunlake football coach Bill Browning wrote in a note sent to the FHSAA on Feb. 17.

When Seahawks baseball coach Dick Rohrberg asked one multi-sport athlete why he wasn’t trying out for his team, the student said a Crusaders football coach had watched him play and that Tampa Catholic “made me an offer that is too good to pass up,” Rohrberg wrote.

The father of one of the students told Sunlake registrar Denise Garcia that his son was going to Tampa Catholic to play football. “Don’t get me wrong,” the father said, according to Pasco County Schools documents. “Coach Browning has a good program but it’s Hillsborough County.”

Tampa Catholic principal Thomas Reidy said his school has been cooperating with the FHSAA since the association began looking into the Crusaders’ athletic department.

“I don’t want to say much because it is an open investigation, but I’m looking forward to it ending,” Reidy said.

The inquiry began in January, when Pasco contacted the FHSAA after five-star sophomore Nate Craig transferred to Tampa Catholic.

Craig, a 6-foot-3 receiver, holds more than a dozen scholarship offers from some of the country’s top programs. His mother said that he transferred for academic reasons.

Pasco coach Tom McHugh said the Crusaders began recruiting Craig a year earlier. McHugh also told the FHSAA that Tampa Catholic contacted two other Pirates. When McHugh dialed a the phone number that called one of his players, he said a Tampa Catholic receptionist answered.

It’s unclear how long the FHSAA’s formal investigation could take, but Sobers said the average case takes about three months. After the FHSAA reviews the investigator’s report, it will notify the school of any possible violations and give Tampa Catholic a chance to respond.

“The most important thing is having the most accurate facts you can possibly have,” Sobers said.

This is the second time since 2011 that the FHSAA has investigated the Crusaders’ football team. Tampa Catholic was reprimanded in 2012 after the FHSAA ruled that an assistant coach discussed financial aid with a student-athlete.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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