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Pasco accuses Tampa Catholic of recruiting, reaches out to FHSAA

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Fri. January 24, 2014 | Matt Baker | Email

Pasco accuses Tampa Catholic of recruiting, reaches out to FHSAA

A day after sophomore phenom Nate Craig started classes at Tampa Catholic, his former school called for the state to conduct a formal investigation into possible recruiting violations.

Pasco accused TC of recruiting the five-star prospect and calling the homes of two other Pirate players in a complaint sent Thursday to the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Pirates coach Tom McHugh said in a phone interview that TC first contacted Craig a year ago about transferring there. Rumors persisted into the summer, when the 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver/defensive back played on a 7-on-7 all-star team loaded with players from Tampa. According to the email, Craig told McHugh that a Hillsborough County coach had asked him and his mother to change schools and that he “would fit perfectly into their team.”

McHugh said Craig’s mother told him twice that Craig would stay at Pasco, the North Suncoast power where his older brother and uncle – Josh Johnson and Trey Dudley-Giles – starred before earning Division I scholarships. Six months later, Craig enrolled at TC.

“I have to think that there was recruiting involved,” McHugh said in a note to the FHSAA, obtained Friday through an open-records request.

Craig is one of the country’s top recruits for the class of 2016 and already holds more than a dozen offers, including Florida State, Florida, Auburn and Ohio State. MaxPreps named him a first-team sophomore All-American this fall, and he scored 16 touchdowns in two seasons with the Pirates.

His mother, Nicki Craig, said this week that her son was not recruited and that he changed schools for academic reasons and so he can attend class closer to her workplace in Tampa.

“It has nothing to do with football,” Nicki Craig said Tuesday. “It’s all about education. That’s what people need to understand.”

Craig began classes at TC the next day in a move publicized by the Twitter account @tampacatholic: “Top 2016 recruit Nate Craig lands at TC. Welcome aboard Nate! our newest CRUSADER!!” The post linked to a Tampa Bay Times story about Craig’s transfer.

Pasco also alleged that TC contacted two of its other players – a varsity starter with college potential and a midseason varsity call-up – this week, offering transportation and academic help if the players enrolled there. One player gave his coach the number that called his home; when McHugh called it, he said, a receptionist at Tampa Catholic answered.

“At this point, there are allegations,” FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers said in an email. “Our eligibility and compliance services department will need to follow up with Tampa Catholic after they have been made aware of the allegations and then depending on what the school’s response is, the Association will act from there.”

Crusaders coach Mike Gregory said the news was a "surprise to me" but declined to comment further. TC principal Thomas Reidy said he had not received a copy of the complaint from the FHSAA and had no knowledge of it until he was contacted by the Times.

“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” said Reidy, who declined further comment.

In 2012 the FHSAA reprimanded TC after it determined that an assistant football coach agreed to give financial aid to a player – a violation of recruiting rules, even though no money was exchanged.

The Crusaders finished 10-3 last fall and made their fourth trip to the state semifinals since 2007.

McHugh said his biggest concern isn’t Craig specifically; he’s worried about the constant threat of other schools poaching Pasco County’s top players.

Current Gator Hunter Joyer started at Wesley Chapel before transferring TC and becoming the country’s top fullback recruit. The FHSAA fined Nature Coast in 2010 after determining it tried to recruit future 1,000-yard rusher David Emmanuel from Pasco. One of this year’s top prospects, Rohan Blackwood, began his prep career at Gulf before heading to NCT.

“Nate’s gone,” McHugh said. “It’s over. They scoop and score. They just can’t keep doing that.”

Times staff writer John C. Cotey contributed to this report.

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