On March 3, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports broke the news that NCAA officials were investigating a $25,000 payment made in 2010 by the University of Oregon to a Houston man, Will Lyles, for providing recruiting services for the school’s football program.
After Robinson’s report, Ken Goe of the PORTLAND OREGONIAN reported, “Lyles has a mentoring relationship with Oregon running back Lache Seastrunk.” (From 2009-2010, Seastrunk was a heavily recruited high school football prospect from Texas.)
11 days after Robinson’s initial report, Thayer Evans of FOXSports.com reported that LSU had paid Lyles $6,000 in 2010 for providing recruiting services for the school’s football program.
During an interview on FOXSportsRadio.com’s Real Talk With Jason Whitlock podcast (full interview) last week, Lyles said he was also paid $5,000 by Cal for his recruiting services.
After noting that Lyles had told him he made $36,000 in 2010, Whitlock asked Lyles:
“You got a check for $25,000 from Oregon, where was the other $11,000?”
“The other $11,000 was $6,000 from LSU and the other $5,000 was from Cal-Berkeley.”
On Feb. 26, 2009, Greg Biggins of ESPN.com reported that then-Texas high school football prospect Lache Seastrunk took a recruiting visit to Cal the last week of February.
In the same piece about Cal’s “Junior Day” recruiting event, Biggins noted of then-Louisiana High School recruit Trovon Reed:
Trovon Reed (Thibodaux, La.) was expected to be on hand but won’t be able to make it. Reed is one of the elite receivers in the South and is holding offers from schools like Texas, Georgia, Ole Miss and Arkansas.
“I couldn’t get out there but I’m going to try and make it for their next Junior Day,” Reed said. “I like Cal and I liked how they used Desean Jackson. They want to use me in a similar way so I’m definitely interested in checking them out.
On April 1 I reported of Reed’s close association with Lyles and Seastrunk. Excerpt from that report:
On Feb. 16 I broke the news that NCAA officials had recently visited Thibodaux, Louisiana, to investigate the recruitment of a current Auburn football player, Trovon Reed, and a recent football signee to the school, Greg Robinson.
At the heart of that NCAA investigation was Thibodaux resident Sean Nelson. Nelson, who is an associate of Reed and Robinson, has been characterized as a street agent who exerted possible undue influence on the two recruits in their decision to choose Auburn. Nelson is also a known associate of the NCAA’s current public enemy #1, Will Lyles. Lyles’ one-man recruiting service was recently paid $25,000 by the University of Oregon for recruiting videos that the school has yet to produce to the public.
Oregon has, to this day, not produced any materials to the public that it received from Lyles for his recruiting services.
Speaking of Cal, on March 13, Thayer Evans reported on the relationship between Lyles and Houston-area high school football prospect Trevon Randle:
Randle said Lyles talked to him a lot about California and Miami. He said Lyles didn’t have to talk to him much about Oregon, because “I told him about Oregon.” But Randle said Lyles knew Ducks coach Chip Kelly well.
Just over a month after meeting Lyles, Randle committed to LSU at a Tigers junior day. Randle said he consulted with his parents before choosing LSU, but said his father is “pretty tight” with Lyles.
Having committed to LSU, Randle said he later spent time with Lyles while attending LSU summer camps. He said Lyles was particularly close with (LSU Assistant Coach Brick) Haley, who recruited him for the Tigers.
It was Haley who cut the $6,000 check to Lyles on behalf of LSU.
Despite that transaction, and LSU commit Randle saying Haley was “particularly close” with Lyles, Haley denied even knowing Lyles in the same FOXSports.com story:
A week later, (Trevon Randle’s Clear Springs (TX) High School Football Coach Clint) Hartman crossed paths with Lyles again. This time he was with LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley, who had come to see Randle. When Lyles tried to walk onto the field, Hartman told him to return to the parking lot.
Hartman later called Haley and told him that Lyles was never to return to Clear Springs High.
“I didn’t know the guy, Coach,” Hartman recalled Haley saying of Lyles. “He showed up and said he was helping the last guy here for LSU.”
Hartman knew that wasn’t true. After all, LSU had never previously recruited at Clear Springs High.
Three weeks ago Dan Rubenstein and Ty Hildenbrandt of SolidVerbal.com interviewed Cal football coach Jeff Tedford. During the visit, Rubenstein asked Tedford:
“I want to call them characters in the nicest possible way that we’ve been seeing this offseason on the fringes of recruiting. How do you and your staff address those types of situations?”
“Obviously everyone uses recruiting services but that’s just to gather data and not depend on what they have to say or what their opinions are or anything like that. It’s really solely collection the information that you need on where the prospects are so you can have a pretty good idea on where to go recruit.
“But as far as people being involved, we haven’t really run into that. We’re really just focused on what important to the kid and go through the school and his coaches.
” … You do have to keep your head on a swivel and you have to know what’s going on out there because you don’t want to bury your head in the sand but on the other hand you really need to keep everything close to us and try to communicate as much as you can just with the recruits, the student-athletes and their families to make sure the lines of communication are open and everyone is on the same page.”
The year before Cal and Tedford paid $5,000 to Lyles for his recruiting services - and three weeks before Lyles associate Lache Seastrunk made a recruiting visit to the Cal-Berkeley campus - Tedford said the following at Cal’s 2009 signing day press conference:
“It’s a little unsettling because sometimes they go underground and you can’t get hold of them. You don’t know what’s happening, so you just continue to try. With not being able to text now, now you just have to call and you get an answering machine. So you’re really at their mercy. It’s a helpless feeling when you don’t know the information. You can’t counterpoint something you don’t know about, so that’s some of it. But it’s so competitive. No one’s going to give up. Everybody is going to always continue to battle right down to the end. Obviously, the people we are recruiting against are very good programs and very competitive that way.”
Is it unreasonable to think that at least part of the reason Tedford’s Cal paid Lyles $5,000 was to ensure a unique level of access to Seastrunk and other Texas recruits associated with Lyles?
That isn’t to say that Tedford was directly involved in the recruitment of Seastrunk. That duty fell to Cal football recruiting coordinator Kenwick Thompson, who shares a hometown with Lyles: Houston.
There’s nothing wrong with Lyles tipping off schools to talent in his area. Nor is there his taking money for such services, regardless the amount. (Because the NCAA does not stipulate a limit.)
Though Lyles’ “Compete Scouting Services” does not come close to fulfilling the NCAA’s official definition of what constitutes a legitimate recruiting service, the NCAA rules regarding such activity are so vague that until the NCAA gets serious about governing them, it’s hard to hold even Lyles to any sort of NCAA-borne standard.
But Lyles did indisputably violate the NCAA booster rule as it pertained to Oregon’s recruitment of Seastrunk thanks to on-record comments from Oregon assistant coach Gary Campbell. What, if any, penalties Oregon will receive from the NCAA for that misstep remains to be seen.
During the same interview last week in which he confirmed receiving a $5,000 payment from Cal and a $6,000 payment from LSU, Lyles was asked by FOXSports.com columnist Whitlock:
“Do you ever steer kids to schools?”
“No I don’t steer kids to schools. What happens is the kids and the families make their own personal decisions and I am in no way shape or form making a decision for anybody or influencing their decision.”
When asked on the Real Talk With Jason Whitlock Podcast why he thought Seastrunk chose to attend Oregon, Lyles stated:
“He chose Oregon because he felt that Oregon was the best fit for him. He linked with the running backs coach Gary Campbell and felt that it was a good system and a good fit for him. And he enjoyed the campus when he went on his visit and enjoyed the people. He made the decision that was best for him.”
In an interview (full interview) with Rivals.com at the BCS National Championship Game bowl site on Jan. 7, 2011, Seastrunk indicated that he regretted his decision to choose Oregon over Auburn - though he did acknowledge that he was the one who chose his destination school. (There was much speculation throughout last season and this offseason that Seastrunk, who was unexpectedly redshirted last year by Oregon coach Chip Kelly, would transfer from Oregon to another school.)
During the interview Seastrunk was asked, “If you had to pick the school to be playing for (in) the national championship (game), would it be Auburn?”
Seastrunk: “Yes sir.”