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USC, Joe McKnight under the impermissible benefits microscope again

Pat Haden AP

So, you just wanted to watch some football, right? Not so fast. What would the football season be without some off-the-field distraction?

It just so happens to involve the No. 1 team in the country, USC, which will kick off its season against Hawaii later tonight. The Los Angeles Times reports that “A key figure in the ongoing corruption scandal at the Los Angeles County assessor’s office said he gave cash and perks worth thousands of dollars to two USC athletes while they were still in school, actions that could violate college sports rules.”

Specifically, the allegations involve former running back Joe McKnight,  a car and an airline ticket. Basketball player Davon Jefferson is also connected to about $3,700 in cash. USC athletic director Pat Haden (pictured) replied to the paper with a response of “We are dedicated to playing and competing the right way.”

There’s a lot going on today, so you’re probably better served to just read the story HERE (and here’s more response from USC). We’ll have more on it later as I’m sure the story will be a developing one.

This is an incredibly inopportune story to come out for a program that is coming off a two-year bowl ban and will play the 2012 season with 75 scholarship players because of NCAA sanctions.

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Bowl win confirms NC State going in right direction under Dave Doeren

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

A year ago, North Carolina State’s decision to hire Dave Doeren didn’t reflect favorably on the university. A year later and Doeren helped orchestrate the second biggest turnaround in major college football this season.

With the 34-27 victory over the UCF Knights in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl, the Wolfpack finished 8-5 overall, which is a five-game improvement in the win column for Doeren.

The improvement came naturally for a young and improving roster. Only six seniors started on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the young players stepped up, particularly during the bowl game.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, a Florida transfer, strung together an outstanding performance against the Knights. The junior was 15-of-26 passing for 262 yards and a touchdown. The quarterback carried the team to a 17-10 halftime lead before the running game took over in the second half.

Both junior Shadrach Thornton and sophomore Matt Dayes finished the opening half with less rushing yards (29) than Brissett. Yet the duo exploded in the second half courtesy of a strong run-blocking effort by North Carolina State’s offensive line.

Wolfpack offensive coordinator Matt Canada repeatedly called inside zone runs to gash UCF’s stout defense. The Knights entered the bowl game with the fifth-ranked rush defense. Thornton and Dayes, however, shredded George O’Leary‘s defense with 174 total yards including a pair of touchdowns from the sophomore.

Despite the loss, UCF continues to prove its one of the best programs among the Group of Five conferences. The Knights finished 9-5 overall. It’s the fourth time in five years that O’Leary led the program to at least nine wins.

But the spotlight will shine on Doeren Friday due to the tremendous job he orchestrated this season with a program that wasn’t expected to compete at a high level.

The coach will now be expected to take the program to yet another level next season, and it’ll be possible to do so with a seasoned Brissett behind center and a talented stable of running backs.

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Report: Minnesota TE Maxx Williams will turn pro after bowl game

Maxx Williams, Desmond King

The Minnesota Golden Gophers will have to replace the program’s most talented player for the second straight season.

Once Ra’Shede Hageman graduated a year ago, tight end Maxx Williams became the focal point of opponents’ game plans. Williams didn’t disappoint either.

Even with two years of eligibility remaining, the redshirt sophomore will reportedly enter the 2015 NFL draft, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN in Twin Cities.

“Sources also indicate that they realize the 2015 Draft is not strong for tight ends,” Wolfson wrote. “The expectation is that Williams can go as high as the late first or second round. He did submit his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board, and the belief is the feedback they will continue to provide will cement his decision.”

The tight end finished first on the team with 29 receptions for 471 yards and seven touchdowns. When the Golden Gophers required a big play in the passing game, the pass was almost always intended for Williams.

As a result, Williams was a finalist for the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end.

With Williams and senior running back David Cobb both headed to the NFL, Jerry Kill’s staff will be forced to replace over 47 percent of the team’s offense next season.

But there still is one more game to go this year. Williams will be on display Jan. 1 during the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl against the No. 16 Missouri Tigers.

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Jacoby Brissett steals show as NC State leads UCF 17-10 at halftime of St. Petersburg Bowl

Bitcoin St Petersburg Bowl - North Carolina State v Central Florida

North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was nearly perfect through two quarters of play in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. As a result, the Wolfpack established a 17-10 lead over the UCF Knights with the two teams preparing for the second half of play.

Brissett was 10-of-12 passing for 197 yards and a touchdown. He was elusive in the pocket, extended plays and placed plenty of stress on UCF’s defense due to his ability to run the football if needed. The quarterback led the Wolfpack with 29 rushing yards.

The only mistake Brissett made came at the end of the half when he took a sack while the Wolfpack was in scoring position. North Carolina State had an opportunity to extend the lead by two scores and receive the kickoff in the second half, but the sack forced the clock to run out for halftime.

UCF’s Justin Holman hasn’t been quite as good, but he’s been solid and created a few big plays in the first half. The sophomore was 11-of-19 passing for 118 yards and a touchdown. The UCF signal-caller didn’t make any key mistakes, and his team remains within striking distance.

Holman needs help, though. George O’Leary‘s offense is predicated on establishing the run, which allows the quarterback to strike down field. North Carolina State’s defense held the Knights’ rushing attack to 3.7 yards per carry. UCF needs to stay ahead of the chains to keep pressure of its quarterback and put him in the best position to succeed.

Brissett, on the other hand, needs to get his offense into the end zone. North Carolina State drove the ball inside the 30-yard line on its final two drives. Those drives resulted in only three points.

Despite an impressive first half performance, Brissett will need to continue his current level of play for the Wolfpack to secure its first bowl victory under head coach Dave Doeren.

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Report: Michigan will meet with Jim Harbaugh this weekend

Jim Harbaugh

The brass at the University of Michigan is about to turn up the heat on its pursuit of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.

After missing the playoffs this season, Harbaugh is expected to be dismissed from his current position within days of the conclusion of the NFL season. It’s already gotten to the point where his family — specifically his brother, John — already accepts Harbaugh’s plight.

The Michigan job is there for the taking. The university plans to make an offer that would make Harbaugh one of the highest paid head coaches in college football. And it will likely officially do so this weekend.

The timing of the meeting will prove to be interesting.

If Harbaugh meets with Michigan officials and the search firm on Saturday, he’ll clearly be weighing his options, but he can’t immediately accept the job with the 49ers playing the next day. If the coach meets with school late Sunday, he could be Michigan’s head coach by the end of the night.

It all comes down to whether or not Harbaugh wants return to the collegiate game, specifically his alma mater. His family and friends are reportedly pushing for a return to Ann Arbor, though.

Either way, the situation will be resolved within the next few days.

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Rutgers finishes successful first season in B1G with bowl victory

Rutgers v North Carolina

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights were favored to finish dead last in the Big Ten East — including predictions by this very site — during the program’s first season in the conference.

Kyle Flood and his team exceeded expectations with an 8-5 record and a 40-21 victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Quick Lane Bowl held in Detroit, Michigan.

With the bowl victory, Rutgers will finish fourth in the Big Ten East with the potential to own the fifth-best overall record in the entire conference.

The narrative was simple earlier this year: Rutgers was only added to the Big Ten Conference because of its footprint in New York City and New Jersey.

It just so happens that its a pretty good football program, too.

The victory over North Carolina also established early bragging rights for the Big Ten over the ACC.

The North Carolina Tar Heels dropped to 6-7 overall during a disappointing season. Larry Fedora‘s squad was a chic pick to be a Top 25 team this season and potentially steal an ACC Coastal Crown. Instead, the program finished third overall in one of the weakest divisions among the Power Five conferences.

After three straight seasons of diminishing win totals, Fedora will likely enter next season on the hot seat.

Rutgers was simply more physical at the point of attack than North Carolina. The Scarlet Knights ran for a whopping 340 yards. Freshman running back Josh Hicks amassed 202 yards on the ground.

North Carolina’s offense was dynamic at times, but the team’s defense simply didn’t show up and that falls directly on the head coach.

Flood, meanwhile, will enjoy the momentum his program built during its first year in the Big Ten both in recruiting and preparation for next season.

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Report: Rift grows between Kyle Whittingham and Utah’s AD

Kyle Whittingham

Kyle Whittingham is the most successful coach in Utah Utes history. During his 20 years as an assistant coach, coordinator and head coach, Whittingham has been involved in 170 victories. But Whittingham may finally be living on borrowed time as the head coach of the Utes.

The Utah football program is coming apart at the seams.

After losing defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen to other programs in less than a week, Whittingham reportedly isn’t very happy with the current status of his program.

“In the time since, three assistant coaches have left the program, and sources familiar with the situation tell The Salt Lake Tribune that the relationship between Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and athletic director Chris Hill is severely fractured, perhaps irreparably,” Matthew Piper reported.

“Those sources, who requested anonymity so as not to not compromise their ties to the program, say Whittingham and Hill were on poor terms before the start of the season, and that the rift widened in recent weeks. The two were scheduled to meet Friday, a source said.”

The reported conflict stems from Hill’s inability to provide the financial backing for Whittingham to retain his coordinators.

“A source said Hill’s inability to lock up Sitake made Whittingham feel that Hill was trying to sabotage his program,” Piper added.

With Whittingham growing dissatisfaction with Utah and Hill’s leadership, the Utes’ head coach is actively searching for positions around college football.

“The source confirmed speculation that Whittingham has met with administrators at other schools,” Piper continued.

If that’s the case, Whittingham may be a respectable fallback option for the University of Michigan, which is still attempting to lure Jim Harbaugh from the NFL ranks.

After all, a program like Michigan could do worse than hiring a coach with a 85-43 career record,  eight bowl appearances in 10 years and the 2008 National Coach of the Year on his resume. It was rumored two weeks ago that Whittingham had met with Michigan officials.

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Auburn’s leading receiver ‘running late’ to arrive at Outback Bowl

Arkansas v Auburn Getty Images

A week ago, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn wasn’t sure if the team’s leading receiver, D’haquille Williams, would play in the Outback Bowl against the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers.

Williams didn’t practice last week due to an illness plus lingering issues with a knee he injured earlier in the season against the Texas A&M Aggies.

After not practicing with the team, Williams didn’t travel to Tampa, Florida for the bowl game.

While Sammie Coates is one of the nation’s most talented wide receivers, the Tigers lose a lot with Williams out the lineup. The JUCO transfer came into the program and immediately became quarterback Nick Marshall‘s favorite target. He leads the team with 45 receptions and 730 receiving yards.

Williams is also a better overall route runner than Coates. The junior, who is NFL bound,  is one of the nation’s top deep threats. Williams was far more willing to run the routes and make the tough catches over the middle, though.

UPDATE [7:00 p.m. ET]:  Due to D’haquille Williams‘ injury status, Auburn’s top target didn’t initially travel with the team to Tampa, Florida, for the Outback Bowl. However, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn told reporters Friday night that the wide receiver will be at the game.

Malzahn never specified whether or not Williams will be cleared to play for the New Year’s Day affair.

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Rutgers ready to add exclamation point on season with 23-0 lead over UNC in Quick Lane Bowl

Kyle Flood

Ten years ago, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights were just starting their ascent to respectability under Greg Schiano. Nine bowl games later, and the program is putting together arguably its strongest postseason effort in the program’s history.

Rutgers dominated the North Carolina Tar Heels 23-0 through two quarters of play in the Quick Lane Bowl.

After losing their past two bowl games, the Scarlet Knights are trying to add an exclamation point to their first season as a member of the Big Ten Conference.

Kyle Flood‘s squad built a lead by winning in the trenches and playing fundamentally sound football.

Rutgers established the run early, and the team’s pair of freshmen running backs, Robert Martin and Josh Hicks, combined for 124 yards on 20 carries.

“Any time your running game works, you’re making guys miss and breaking tackles.” Flood told ESPN as he headed to the locker room for halftime. “I think they’ve both done a good job.”

Overall, the Scarlet Knights gained 281 yards of total offense.

North Carolina, meanwhile, struggled to develop any consistency. The Tar Heels fumbled the ball twice. Once they were finally able to move the ball, kicker Thomas Moore missed a field goal attempt and another was blocked.

It wasn’t until late in the second quarter that North Carolina was finally able to move the ball successfully by stretching the field horizontally. The Tar Heels stayed away from the strength of Rutgers’ defense — its defensive line — and tested its athleticism on the edges.

If North Carolina is going to attempt a comeback, it will have to increase tempo on offense while continuing to get their play-makers in space. Rutgers simply needs to control the ball and the line of scrimmage like it did in the first half to finish the season 8-5 overall.

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Dadi Nicolas tweets he’s returning to Hokies

Boston College v Virginia Tech Getty Images

One of the most talented defensive linemen in the ACC in 2014 will get the opportunity to repeat that in 2015.

In a tweet posted to his Twitter account Friday morning, Dadi Nicolas announced that he will be returning to Virginia Tech for another season.  Next year will mark the redshirt junior’s final season of eligibility.

“Looking forward to coming back to school next year to accomplish all the goals I have set for myself and becoming the man God wants me to be & the team goals that my teammates and I desire to fulfill,” the defensive end wrote.

In starting all 12 games this season, Nicolas led the Hokies with 17.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks.  Those totals were good for 13th and T-22nd nationally, respectively, with both being second in the ACC.

For his performance, he was named second-team All-ACC.

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To the surprise of no one, Todd Gurley’s turning pro

Todd Gurley AP

Even prior to him tearing his ACL, most, if not all of those connected to the Georgia football program assumed the 2014 season would be Todd Gurley‘s last in Athens.  After the ACL tear?  You could’ve written it in ink.

While it wasn’t official then, it is now as head coach Mark Richt busted out the permanent marker in confirming that the talented running back is leaving the Bulldogs after three seasons for the NFL.  Richt made the announcement as prep work for the Belk Bowl matchup with Louisville continues in Charlotte.

Richt stated that Gurley is with the team as he continues rehab, which the coach said is going well.

He’s rehabbing well,” Richt said. “Ron thinks it’s going beautifully. His spirits are great. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him doing a lot of things for the scouts before the draft. I think he’ll be a very high draft pick.”

Gurley was arguably the Heisman front-runner when he was suspended for what turned out to be four games in mid-October for admitting to accepting money in exchange for his autographs. His first game back from that suspension, however, Gurley sustained the torn ACL.

In his three seasons at UGA, Gurley rushed for 3,285 yards and 36 touchdowns. Prior to his injury, he was viewed as a lock to be a first-round pick; what his draft stock will be post-injury remains to be seen.

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Illini kicks off B1G bowl season with loss to LaTech

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl - Illinois v Louisiana Tech Getty Images

Coming into the 2014 postseason, the Big Ten as a conference was looking to get back some of the respect its lost over the last several years.  After Game 1?  Hey, at least there are nine, possibly 10 more remaining.

It wasn’t pretty as mistakes in all three phases littered the playing field, but Louisiana Tech, which had jumped out to a 21-9 halftime lead, was able to pull away to a 35-18 win over Illinois in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.  The win marks Tech’s first bowl victory since the 2008 season, and their ninth win this year after winning just four in 2013.

Were it not for one key fourth-quarter sequence, though, it might’ve been the Illini doing some postseason celebrating for the first time since 2011.

With just over nine minutes remaining and trailing 21-18, the Illini forced a fumble at around the Tech 40-yard line that was recovered by Jihad Ward and returned to the Tech 16-yard line.  However, Ward fumbled before he went down and the ball was recovered by, oddly enough, quarterback Cody Sokol, the player who originally fumbled it.  Five plays later, one of which was a 70-yard pass to Carlos Henderson, a Kenneth Dixon one-yard touchdown run with 6:15 remaining stretched the lead to 28-18 and essentially put the game out of reach.

The scoring icing on the cake was a 28-yard touchdown run by Blake Martin with 3:43 remaining.

While Sokol completed just 14 passes, he threw for 247 yards.  Dixon ended up scoring twice, one each rushing and receiving, in accumulating 142 yards from scrimmage.

Sokol’s counterpart, Reilly O’Toole, took a severe, game-long beating but still passed for 295 yards and a touchdown.

Houston Bates, who transferred from Illinois to Tech earlier this year, totaled 4.5 sacks in the game, with another being wiped out late in the game by a penalty.  The senior came into the game with 5.5 this season.

While the Big Ten is 0-1, Conference USA moved to an impressive 4-1 with Tech’s win.  Through 11 bowl games, that conference as well as the ACC (1-0) are the only ones that are above .500.

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Pitt officially introduces Pat Narduzzi as new head coach

Pat Narduzzi AP

Two days after reports surfaced that Pittsburgh had bagged its new head coach, that move has officially come to fruition.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Pitt announced that Pat Narduzzi has indeed been tabbed as the 37th head coach in the history of the football program.  Narduzzi will replace Paul Chryst, who left earlier this month after three years on the job to take the same position at Wisconsin.

Narduzzi turned into one of the most respected defensive coordinators in the country during his tenure at Michigan State

“Our goal was not only to find the best football coach but also a person who would uphold the values and mission of the University of Pittsburgh. In Pat Narduzzi we have found that person,” said Pitt’s acting athletic director Dr. Randy Juhl in a prepared statement. “His achievements on the football field are well documented. Pat is widely regarded as a rising star in the coaching profession who is ready to lead his own program.

“It was obvious from our conversations that he also embraces the responsibilities he has beyond the game. Pat wants to impact the lives of his student-athletes long after their Pitt careers end. We are excited about what our young men can accomplish, on and off the field, under his watch.”

Narduzzi has spent the past 11 seasons on Mark Dantonio-led coaching staffs, three coming at Cincinnati (2004-06) and eight at Michigan State (2007-present).  This will be Narduzzi’s first head-coaching job at the FBS level.

He will delay getting a full-time headstart on this phase of his career, however, as Narduzzi confirmed that he will coach MSU’s defense in the Cotton Bowl against Baylor.

“I am very honored to be the new head football coach at the University of Pittsburgh,” said Narduzzi. “I want to thank Chancellor Gallagher, Executive Vice Chancellor Jerry Cochran, Dr. Randy Juhl and Donna Sanft for providing me with this tremendous opportunity. It is an honor to join a program with such great history and tradition. I am very eager to begin working with the young men who are already in the program and meet people throughout the Pitt community. We are going to work very hard on the field, in the classroom and in the community to make the University of Pittsburgh proud.”

In addition to it being his first job as head coach, Narduzzi became the first current defensive coordinator to land a head-coaching job during this season’s spinning of the coaching carousel.

Of the 12 previous coaching hires made at the FBS level in 2014, five have been current FBS offensive coordinators while a wide receivers coach (David Beaty, Kansas) landed a sixth.  Four others were current FBS head coaches, and the other two were head coaches atDiv. III (Lance Leipold, Buffalo) and high school programs (Tony Sanchez, UNLV).

With Narduzzi’s hiring being made official, Michigan is now the lone remaining FBS program without a head coach.  That’s likely to remain the case through the early part of next week as UM awaits word on whether they can land Jim Harbaugh.

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Illini trailing LaTech by double digits despite doubling-up on yards

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl - Illinois v Louisiana Tech Getty Images

It’s not often the case that a team that’s nearly doubled up its opposition in total offense finds itself on the wrong end of a double-digit lead.

Yet that’s the situation Illinois finds itself in Friday afternoon, trailing Louisiana Tech 21-9 despite an overwhelming 291-154 advantage in total offense.  There were three big problems for the Illini, though: penalties, turnovers and shooting themselves in the kicking foot.

On the former front, the Illini were flagged eight times for 53 yards; Tech was only penalized once for five yards.  On the latter front, it was a pair of missed field goals and an extra point as well as a botched opening kickoff that added to the Illini’s misery.  And the turnovers?  It was actually turnover, singular, but it was a huge one: with the Illini driving toward missed field-goal range, a Reilly O’Toole pass — with a blatant hold on the receiver by the defense going uncalled — was intercepted and returned 69 yards for a touchdown by Xavier Woods.

Tech came into the game leading the nation in turnovers forced, with the pick-six increasing that total to 41.  It was also the Bulldogs’ fifth defensive touchdown of the season.

Another issue for the Illini?  Tech running back Kenneth Dixon took a perfectly-executed wheel route and turned it into an 80-yard touchdown.  Dixon finished the first half with 115 yards from scrimmage.

Houston Bates, who transferred from Illinois to Tech earlier this year, had three first-half sacks.  The senior came into the game with 5.5 this season.

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Five concussions in 14 months force Clint Trickett to retire from football

Clint Trickett, Mykkele Thompson AP

Multiple concussions in a little over a year have led to the end of Clint Trickett‘s football playing career.

Friday afternoon, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen confirmed that Trickett will not play in Monday’s Liberty Bowl game against Texas A&M.  That came just a week after Holgorsen indicated Trickett would be available for the postseason game.  Instead, getting his second start of the season at quarterback will be Skyler Howard, who started in place of Trickett in the 37-24 win over ISU.

Subsequent to Holgorsen’s announcement, Trickett revealed that he has suffered five concussions over a period of 14 months.  Because of that, Trickett has decided to retire from the game and embark on a coaching career.

Trickett, a senior who would’ve been playing in his last game at the collegiate level, also acknowledged that he hid two of the concussions from WVU’s medical staff.  The player, though, absolved the trainers of any responsibility.

In his two seasons as (mostly) the Mountaineers’ starter, Trickett passed for 4,890 yards, 25 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.  Howard, a sophomore, has passed for 483 yards, five touchdowns and, most impressively, no interceptions since taking over for Trickett following his fifth concussion.

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Howard RB shot, killed during alleged break-in

Terrance Tusan Getty Images

In September, Terrence Tusan was scoring on a long touchdown run against Rutgers as a member of the Howard football team.  Three months later, the 22-year-old Tusan is dead.

According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, Tusan was one of two suspects shot and killed Sunday evening during an alleged home invasion robbery.  Tusan was found shot outside the apartment he allegedly broke into, while 18-year-old Jakobi Gipson was found inside.  A third suspect was injured during the alleged break-in, although he fled the scene and his whereabouts are unknown.

From the Record-Chronicle:

They have said that three men forced their way into an apartment in the 1500 block of Meadow Street. A 911 call at 5:38 p.m. reported gunshots. Police arrived minutes later to find two victims with non-life-threatening injuries and two of the suspects dead. A third suspect, who might have been injured, remains at large.

Police have not said whether the incident was drug-related. Hinojosa said officers found one handgun belonging to one of the victims and one belonging to one of the suspects at the scene.

The paper added that “[p]olice have not said who shot whom.”

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the Tusan family at this difficult time,” a statement from Howard University read, a sentiment we extend to his family as well.

A former coach and mentor to Tusan seemed to be left with more questions than answers, while at the same time asking the moist poignant question in this sad situation.

“He was a good kid,” Clarence Nevels said. “He had good grades and was just down at AT&T Stadium for Thanksgiving Day Madness Youth Football speaking to students about believing in themselves. …

“You have to wonder, what would be the purpose to throw his life away?”

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