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UCF players phone fraud suspects

A former Central Florida cornerback was arrested and 11 other current or former players were questioned Tuesday by federal agents investigating cellular telephone fraud.

While the Knights practiced, Secret Service agents searched the locker room for cellular phones with up to 36 phone numbers pirated from AT&T Wireless Services. The numbers, which were not listed in the company's billing system, let users make free phone calls, an investigator said.

Arrested was Patrick Brinson, 20, of Miami, who left the team after hurting a knee last spring. He was arrested at his apartment near the school, said Ric Johnson, special agent in charge of the Secret Service office in Orlando.

Brinson was charged with possessing 15 or more cellular telephones with stolen numbers. He was expected to be held at the Seminole County Jail pending a bail hearing today in federal court.

If convicted, Brinson faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The most prominent of the 12 names listed in the affidavit outlining the investigation were starting receiver Todd Cleveland and starting tailback Mike Grant. Cleveland is considered the team's top senior pro prospect. Grant is the leading scorer with 12 touchdowns.

In his affidavit, Secret Service agent John Mrha also identified other players believed to have used illicit cellular phones: starting offensive linemen Cornell Green and Freddy Moore; backup wide receivers Charles Lee, Rufus Hall and Kenny Clark; backup defensive back Paul Miranda; backup quarterback Tyson Hinshaw, and former linebacker Steve Lane.

Johnson would not say whether phones were found in the search or give other details. But he estimated the unbilled calls had cost AT&T thousands of dollars.

Other records filed in federal court also show federal agents conducted surveillance on UCF players at the Citrus Bowl after the Samford game Oct. 11 and at UCF's Wayne Densch Sports Center last week.

"I'm surprised some of our guys were tempted by this, but my guess is that some honest young men may have succumbed to temptation," coach Gene McDowell said. "We don't know now if any of our players have broken the law. If they have, we will deal with it."

GROZA AWARD: Kicker Fred Waczewski has been named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, the Palm Beach County Sports Commission announced.

Other semifinalists for the award given to the nation's top kicker are: Minnesota's Adam Bailey, Michigan's Kraig Baker, Boise State's Todd Belcastro, Nebraska's Kris Brown, Texas A&M's Kyle Bryant, Wake Forest's Matthew Burdick, Wisconsin's Matt Davenport, Texas' Phil Dawson, South Carolina's Steve Florio, Northwestern's Brian Gowins, Kansas State's Martin Gramatic, Duke's Sims Lenhardt, Ball State's Brent Lockliear, Arizona State's Robert Nycz, Tulane's Brad Palazzo, UCLA's Chris Sailer, Nevada's Damon Shea, West Virginia's Jay Taylor and Houston's Sebastian Villarreal.

_ TIMES WIRES

Blount is cleared by NCAA

TAMPA _ South Florida true freshman defensive end Tchecoy Blount got good news from the NCAA Clearinghouse this week. After 10 weeks of being able to practice but not play, Blount is academically eligible to participate in the Bulls' final four games.

Coach Jim Leavitt was happy to hear it _ to a point. Leavitt, who has praised Blount's practice performances, has been frustrated all season by the delay in clearing up his eligibility.

If Blount had been eligible by early September, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder out of Dixie Hollins High could have competed for a starting position. With most of the season gone, Leavitt will keep Blount on the bench so the season won't be wasted.

"The issue involved Pinellas County policies that should never have been questioned by the NCAA Clearinghouse," said Leavitt, who declined to go into detail because of confidentiality rules.

"Since we feel like Tchecoy's participation has been unnecessarily delayed, we will ask the NCAA to grant him an extra season."

In other words, USF will petition to have Blount's five years to play four seasons begin next year. That would leave him the option to be redshirted next season or be eligible for a medical redshirt later in his college career.

"Basically, he's lost a year, and it has not been his fault," Leavitt said. "You have a young man who doesn't know if he's going to be eligible all year, and his complete focus changed. Your whole mind-set is totally different. I think that's very unfair. Because it isn't his fault; he did nothing wrong."

_ SHARON GINN

Johnson named starting QB

GAINESVILLE _ Coach Steve Spurrier put to rest speculation about the Gators' starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Georgia by naming Doug Johnson.

"As long as everything goes well, it'll be his game," Spurrier said. "But if he's struggling, we've got probably Noah Brindise as the next guy in there."

Left out of the mix is true freshman Jesse Palmer, who started against Auburn and threw two interceptions while Johnson sat out a suspension for a curfew violation. Palmer was benched in favor of Brindise, who led the Gators to the go-ahead score.

Spurrier said Johnson has shown more dedication since returning from his suspension.

"Hopefully," Spurrier said, "he's learned his lesson and we can move on."

Johnson said: "I've practiced like a starter this week, and I'm going to do everything that I can to help the team win. I know that if things don't work out well, Noah and Jesse are ready to come in."

LINE DANCING: Pat Browning will start at right tackle. Mo Collins will move to left tackle for the injured Zach Piller (hamstring).

WUERFFEL AWARD: Former Gator and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel was chosen the 1997-96 GTE Academic All-America Team Male Member of the Year. Wuerffel is the first Heisman Trophy winner to be named the nation's top scholar-athlete. He graduated with a 3.75 grade-point average. _ MARK LONG

FSU's Pittman finishes jail time

TALLAHASSEE _ Julian Pittman today finishes the jail sentence he received for pleading no contest to burglary and fraudulent use of a credit card. Pittman, a senior nose tackle, served 23 days of a 30-day sentence _ reporting to jail each night and leaving in the morning _ and is waiting for the university to answer the appeal of his suspension from the team. Pittman has been attending classes and practicing.

NOTES: OL Ross Brannon missed practice with a right ankle sprain. RBs Davy Ford and Khalid Abdullah and FL Tres Walton were out with the flu.

_ OMAR KELLY

Hurricanes on the run

CORAL GABLES _ The Hurricanes accomplished something no Miami team had done since 1978: They ran for more than 300 yards in consecutive games. And the numbers have gone up as the depth at running back has gone down.

Coach Butch Davis said starting TB Trent Jones likely will miss Saturday's game against Arkansas State at the Orange Bowl because of the strained hamstring he sustained Saturday against Temple. That means freshman James Jackson, who rushed for 187 yards in Jones' sted, will see more playing time.

_ SPECIAL REPORT

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