Cal athletics

Cal admits negligence in death of former walk-on Ted Agu

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Nearly two years to the day after his death, a significant development has been uncovered in the Ted Agu case. Agu, a Cal walk-on with sickle cell trait, collapsed and died during a workout on Feb. 7, 2014, and documents obtained by the UC Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program and shared with the San Francisco Chronicle show the university has admitted negligence in the player’s death.

Agu’s parents, Ambrose and Emilia Agu, are suing UC Berkeley for wrongful death over how Agu was treated in the moments proceeding his death.

Cal told the media at the time Agu died of a heart condition and that head strength coach Damon Harrington and trainer Robert Jackson did not notice signs of Agu struggling to complete an especially arduous workout and that he resisted Cal staffers’ help, insisting, “I’m good.”

But testimony from Agu’s teammates differs significantly from that account.

Writes the Chronicle:

Daniel Lasco, a running back and team captain at the time, was on the rope with Agu during the drill. He said he assigned Agu to lead their group up the hill, which required him at times to pull the other players behind him. Former offensive lineman Matt Cochran, who was injured and observed from the drill route’s periphery, described Agu falling multiple times and showing signs of fatigue beginning about midway through the workout.

After teammates noticed Agu struggling, Lasco took his place at the front of the rope. Lasco testified of his time leading the drill: “It felt like you were pulling three tires behind you. … When I was up there, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t believe I let him do this.’”

Jacobi Hunter, a former defensive tackle who was also injured that day and walked the route, testified that Jackson, the trainer, was looking directly at Agu when he fell, and did not offer aid.

About halfway up the hill on their last lap, Lasco testified, Agu finally stopped, bent over, fell to his knees, then curled into a fetal position. A few players said they helped him up and walked a few steps with him before he fell down again.

“It’s like something just pulled a battery out of him, and he just stopped working,” cornerback Trevellous Cheek said during his deposition.

Players said they threw water on Agu and yelled for team trainers.

Cal football head physician Dr. Casey Batten informed the staff Agu carried sickle cell trait, documents show, and that he should cease activity as soon as symptoms appear.

After Agu’s parents asked then-Alameda County chief forensic pathologist Dr. Thomas Beaver to read players’ accounts of the incident, the Chronicle writes, Beaver changed his opinion from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy to acute sickle cell crisis for the cause of Agu’s death. “Although UC Berkeley officials say they provided the coroner’s office with the medical records it requested, which included Agu’s sickle cell status, Beaver insists his former office never got any information from the university on the subject,” the paper writes. “Two interviews with football players by the UC Berkeley Police Department, which the family’s attorneys say described Agu struggling, were never sent to the coroner’s bureau, whose personnel declined to discuss the issue.” Dr. Michael Ferenc formally altered Agu’s cause of death in October.

UC Berkeley officially admitted liability in court in an effort to move forward with appropriately compensating the Agu family in advance of a jury trial slated for April, the university said in a statement to the paper.

Finalists named for inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year

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Jason Witten was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2012, and now his foundation is attempting to start a similar honor for college football. While the William V. Campbell Trophy goes to the nation’s best scholar-athlete and the Wuerffel Trophy honors the nation’s best community servant, no other college award attempts to recognize what the Witten Man of the Year recognizes.

And what is that, you ask?

Reads the boiler plate from the Jason Witten SCORE Foundation:

Presented annually to the Division I college football player who has demonstrated a record of leadership by exhibiting exceptional courage, integrity and sportsmanship both on and off the field. The award honors the type of exemplary character and commitment to community, family and teammates demonstrated by Jason Witten, the 2012 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year and one of the most prominent role models in the game.

Nominees are gathered from the Sports Information Directors of each NCAA Division I football-playing institution. Three finalists are selected by the award’s board of directors, and the winner is selected by a panel of prominent former players and coaches, as well as members of the college football media.

The finalists were announced Tuesday, and they are:

  • Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin
  • Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph

“I am very excited to announce these three exceptional young men as the finalists for the inaugural Collegiate Man of the Year,” the former Tennessee tight end said in a statement. “Minkah Fitzpatrick, Shaquem Griffin and Mason Rudolph are outstanding leaders on the field, in the classroom and in the community, and they embody what the sport of college football is all about. It was a nearly impossible task to choose just three from all of the great student-athletes nominated. There are so many outstanding leaders who are great representatives for college football, and I commend all of the nominees for the tremendous example they set on and off the field.”

These types of awards seem to be just as much about honoring the namesake as they do the winner, but I doubt either of the three finalists would turn down the award if chosen.

The winner will beget a $10,000 contribution in his name to his school’s scholarship fund, and will be chosen on Feb. 22.

Jeremy Smith’s dad says RB son transferring from Louisville

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A lost 2017 season for Jeremy Smith has morphed into a departure for the player.

The father of the running back confirmed to the Louisville Courier Journal Monday night that his son has been granted a release from his Louisville scholarship. A school official subsequently confirmed Smith’s departure as well.

The senior will be leaving the football program as a graduate of the university, giving him the ability to use his final season of eligibility immediately in 2018.

Smith came to the Cardinals from the junior college ranks as a member of their 2015 recruiting class.  After rushing for 270 yards his first year, he ran for 382 (on 57 carries) in 2016.  That latter season, his eight rushing touchdowns were second on the team to Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson‘s 21.

Entering the 2017 season as the Cardinals’ top returning back, Smith suffered a foot injury during practice between the first two games of the year that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.  That injury limited him to just eight yards on five carries.

Jerry Kill to make health-related decision on future as Rutgers’ OC

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Once again, Jerry Kill‘s health could force him to step away from the game.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, nj.com is reporting that the Rutgers’ offensive coordinator “is evaluating his options and is expected to make a health-related decision in the coming days” on his coaching future. The 56-year-old Kill was hospitalized in September of this year after suffering what was described as a minor seizure related to his ongoing battle with epilepsy, although he returned to his coaching duties shortly thereafter.

Ahead of an official decision, the website added, head coach Chris Ash has been informing prospects on the recruiting trail of the possibility that Kill might not be with the Scarlet Knights because of the issues that stretch back years.

In October of 2015, Kill was forced to step down as Minnesota’s head football coach because of health issues related to ongoing epileptic seizures.  Prior to joining the Rutgers staff, Kill spent the 2016 season in a non-coaching role at Kansas State.

In the year prior to Kill’s arrival, RU was 127th nationally in points per game (15.7) and 18th in total offense (283 yards per games).  In Kill’s first season in 2017, they were 121st in the former category (18 ppg) and 129th in the latter (263 ypg).

Nebraska’s Scott Frost confirms he will indeed coach UCF in bowl game

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After a little uncertainty, Scott Frost will indeed finish what he started this season.

After Frost led them to a perfect regular season and AAC championship, UCF earned the Group of Five’s bid to a New Year’s Six Bowl. In between the title win and bowl announcement, however, Frost was hired as the head coach at Nebraska. At the time, all of the sides involved indicated that Frost and his coaching staff, all of whom are following him to Lincoln, would be coaching the Knights in that bowl game.

As recently as late last week, however, there was some uncertainty as to whether Frost would actually lead UCF in the New Year’s Day Peach Bowl matchup with Auburn.  Tuesday, though, Frost was back at UCF with his undefeated Knights team and confirmed that he will coach them one last time, calling it “an honor” to do so.

“There’s some unusual circumstances but we’re gonna handle this as we would any bowl game of this type,” Frost said according to the Omaha World-Herald. “Our staff is completely committed and we’re going to do everything we can for this football team. …

“It’s an honor to be invited to this game. These players have poured their hearts out to accomplish a lot this year. There’s been a lot of circumstances swirling around this season and that’s been tough to navigate but they’ve been great with that. I’m grateful we have a chance to give them their best possible chance to put on the best show in Atlanta and win a football game.”

Frost had been on the road recruiting for his new team before returning to Orlando Monday night.  He and his assistants will remain there through Thursday as they continue preparing for the bowl game, then will continue recruiting duties for the Cornhuskers right up until the dead period starts Dec. 17 while continuing prep work for the Knights’ postseason.

Unlike in any other year, there’s an early signing period that starts on Dec. 20 and goes for 72 hours.  After that early signing period ends, there’ll be just a week or so left until Frost takes the field one last time as the Knights’ head coach.