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Arrested Illini players claim dorm incident was a prank

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Because of course they did.

Wednesday morning, three Illinois football players, offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins and wide receiver Zarrian Holcombe, were arrested on charges of home invasion and armed robbery. Thursday, the trio was officially arraigned on felony charges of residential burglary and aggravated robbery.

The players, however, claimed that, according to first assistant state’s attorney Steve Ziegler, they were merely pulling a prank on the 19-year-old dormitory resident. From the Champaign News-Gazette:

Ziegler said the trio is accused of entering the room of another 19-year-old man who lived in Bromley Hall and threatening him with a pellet gun just before 1 a.m. Wednesday in what they told police was a “prank or a joke.”

“(The victim) was in bed with his door closed but not locked when three guys come into his room. They are all wearing dark clothing and they are all masked,” Ziegler said. “One of them produces what he believed to be a gun. Later he finds a BB gun on the floor of his room.”

Ziegler said from his review of a synopsis provided him by Champaign police, it’s believed that Holcombe was holding the BB gun while Lee went through dresser drawers and Watkins went through the man’s wallet, which was on a table.

“He recognizes Holcombe and Lee as residents of Bromley,” said Ziegler. “He says he calls them by name and they run out of his room. He later finds cash missing. What happens to Watkins is not clear.”

Ziegler said after the victim realized he knew two of the alleged intruders, he followed them into the hall.

“At that point, they are not wearing masks anymore so he knows it’s them,” Ziegler said.

The charges carry a mandatory prison term of 4-15 years on each count if they’re found guilty. Bond has been set at $150,000 for each player.

Lee and Holcombe, who were suspended prior to their arrests, remain suspended. Watkins has been indefinitely suspended from all team activities as well.

Lee started two of the six games he played his true freshman season last year, while Holcombe played in seven his first season with the Illini. Watkins was a three-star 2017 signee who enrolled early at the school.

Ex-Auburn TE Landon Rice transfers to Alabama FCS team

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The latest addition to one FCS team comes with some off-field baggage, to say the least.

Jacksonville State confirmed Monday night that it has added Landon Rice to its football roster.  The tight end had spent the 2017 season at a Mississippi junior college after parting ways with his original Power Five home under a cloud of controversy.

In early September of 2016, Rice left the Auburn football program for what were initially described as “personal reasons.” It was subsequently reported that Rice had been accused of first-degree rape.

A 19-year-old female filed a police report July 27, 2016, accusing Rice of raping her three months earlier at an on-campus residence hall and sought a protective order against him Sept. 12, with a temporary order issued three days later.

The attorney for Rice issued a statement shortly after the accusations came to light in which he labeled the allegations as “false” and that his client has been “vilified” and “unfairly treated” because of them.  In response to that statement, the lawyer for the unnamed 19-year-old allegedly raped by Rice released a series of text messages between the player and alleged victim in which the former apologized to the latter on multiple occasions.

Rice had denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer; while he was never charged in connection with the allegations, a Title IX investigation found him to be responsible for sexual assault and, as a result, he was barred from the AU campus until 2024.  However, those restrictions were rescinded in September of last year, which Landon’s new school alluded to in its statement on the player’s addition to the roster.

Jacksonville State University conducted a very thorough investigation surrounding all of the facts on Landon Rice, just like we do on any of our recruits. After speaking with several officials from Auburn University and getting all of the facts surrounding the investigation, and after meeting with Landon, we decided to allow Landon to enroll at JSU and join our football program.

“On September 26, 2017, all sanctions imposed upon Landon as a result of a Title IX investigation expired and Landon was returned to the status of ‘good standing’ at Auburn University. The matter and all proceedings therein have been concluded, according to a memo dated November 7, 2017, from Kelley Taylor, Director AA/EEO and Title IX Coordinator at Auburn University.

“We have high standards for all of our student-athletes and we do our due diligence on all recruits before they join any of our athletics teams at Jacksonville State and Landon was treated the same. Privacy laws prevents us from releasing more details on the investigation.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2016 recruiting class, Rice was rated as the No. 8 tight end in the country.  He was an early enrollee who participated in spring practice and was expected to contribute as a true freshman before the off-field issue derailed those plans.

Ex-Texas QB/WR Kai Locksley commits to UTEP

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Kai Locksley left the state of Texas, but has now found his way back.

The former University of Texas quarterback announced on Twitter Monday night that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career at UTEP. The Miners’ new head coach, Dana Dimel, addressed the development on his own Twitter account.

Locksley, whose father Mike is an assistant at Alabama, was a four-star member of the Longhorns’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 6 player at any position in the state of Maryland. After not attempting a pass or playing a down his first two seasons at UT — he ultimately transitioned to wide receiver — Locksley moved on to an Iowa junior college.

After spending the 2017 season at the JUCO, Locksley was rated by 247Sports.com as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback at that level of football.

Reports: Auburn losing OL coach Herb Hand to Texas

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Thanks to Tom Herman, Gus Malzahn now has a key hole to fill on his coaching staff on The Plains.

First reported by Brett McMurphy, Herb Hand has decided to leave as the offensive line coach at Auburn and take the same job at Texas.  Additionally, Hand will reportedly carry the title of co-offensive coordinator with the Longhorns.

247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the original report.

Hand spent the past two seasons as the line coach at Auburn.  Prior to that, Hand spent two years with Penn State (2014-15) and four at Vanderbilt (2010-13).

Rutgers makes hiring of John McNulty as OC official

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Rutgers officially has its ninth offensive coordinator in as many years.

Late last week, reports surfaced that Chris Ash was set to hire John McNulty as its new coordinator.  Monday afternoon, the Scarlet Knights confirmed the hiring of McNulty as the replacement for Jerry Kill, who stepped down after one season last month due to ongoing health concerns.

McNulty is a very familiar name in Piscataway as he served as the Scarlet Knights’ coordinator and assistant coach under Greg Schiano from 2004-08.

“I’m excited to welcome John back to the Rutgers football family,” a statement from the head coach began. “He has a wealth of football knowledge and experience, and I look forward to him helping develop our quarterbacks. John is a great leader, man and coach, and I’m excited to see him shape the identity of our offense.”

The past two seasons, McNulty served as the tight ends coach for the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers.  In fact, he had spent his entire time as an assistant coach since leaving RU at the NFL level, including stops with the Arizona Cardinals (2009-12),  Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2013) and Tennessee Titans (2014-15).  He also spent six seasons in the NFL prior to his RU stint — Jacksonville Jaguars (1998-2002) and Dallas Cowboys (2003).

McNulty, who played his college football at Penn State, began his collegiate coaching career at Michigan (1991-94) before moving on to UConn for three seasons as wide receivers coach.