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Football: Stoops tested by off-field issues

EVAN CARAVELLI/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Head coach Mike Stoops has been forced to deal with controversy both on and off the field this season, his first at the UA.
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
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Inheriting a team that won just two of 12 games a year ago, UA head football coach Mike Stoops surely expected to go down his share of rocky roads on the playing field this season.

The UA football program's off-field saga began when incoming freshman McCollins Umeh collapsed and died during a summer workout, and the drama has not yet subsided.

In the wake of a 1-5 overall record and three consecutive losses to open conference play, Stoops has been forced to turn some of his attention away from game preparation, and toward off-the-field troubles that have plagued his team as of late.

"I think players definitely have a responsibility to their football team and to each other and to have respect for their coaches and teammates," Stoops said yesterday in reference some of his players' recent run-ins with the law.

"It's selfish and not very smart," Stoops said. "Those things all come with winning. You just try to be as positive of an influence on kids as you can. And (help them) understand that this is how you win. It's all these things together. Some day we'll quit beating ourselves up and grow up and figure out that we can do some things right and win. But, again, they have a certain responsibility to this program and to our athletic department to uphold the standards."

The most recent tangle came via redshirt sophomore Paul Philipp, who was arrested last week for using a fake ID while trying to gain entry into O'Malley's bar on Fourth Avenue.

Philipp was the fourth UA player cited for unlawful activity this season.

Freshman defensive lineman Yaniv Barnett and junior running back Gilbert Harris were both diverted to the Dean of Students Office last month after police found the pair with marijuana on the top of Sixth Street Garage. Harris originally gave police a fake name when approached.

A humbled Harris would later say that he thought the situation was blown out of proportion, but that he knows, as an athlete, that his actions are likely to be under greater scrutiny.

"That stuff happens when you put yourself in a bad situation," Harris said after the incident. "I just want to look past it and move forward and help my team the best I can."

Just weeks later, however, Barnett was suspended from the team after he was found with marijuana again, this time while sitting at a table in front of Arizona Stadium.

And just last week, a warrant was issued for the arrest of wide receiver Biren Ealy, who missed a scheduled court date stemming from a previous legal issue.

Stoops said Ealy didn't travel with the team to Oregon this weekend for violating team rules. He wouldn't elaborate.

The trouble doesn't stop at legal issues, however. Quarterback Nic Costa left the team last week - teammates contend the junior was simply looking for more playing time - and, more seriously, freshman guard Sheldon Watts is still lying in a hospital bed with bullet wounds after being shot an off-campus party earlier this month. Watts was immediately admitted to University Medical Center in critical condition, which has since been upgraded to fair.

Junior defensive end Marcus Smith said he thinks situations like Watts' can often come up simply because he and his teammates play football for a high-profile program.

"We are (targets), everybody knows," Smith said. "You usually can tell who we are. You can tell by what we have on, our backpacks. I know we're marked, but we just try to pick and choose the situations we get into."

As far as the legal issues go, Smith said he doesn't think scrutiny from the media or the public is necessary, even though he does expect it.

"If it was just a regular student it wouldn't make the paper, it wouldn't be any kind of publicity for anyone," Smith said. "But since we're on the football team, since we're a student athlete, the media makes a bigger deal out of it than it really is."

"It's not (fair), but that's part of the life that we're in," Smith added.

Junior linebacker Sean Jones said he thinks the attention is fair, considering the players' status on campus and around Tucson.

Jones said he'd compare UA sports to the professional ranks in any other town, since Tucson has no major professional teams of its own.

Smith said one way players can encourage their teammates to stay out of trouble is to hang out in large groups together.

"It's harder to do something wrong when it's a big group of us," he said. "Since we try to stay together off the field in our free time, it stops a lot of us from doing things we shouldn't be doing."

Jones added that, in many cases, team disciplinary actions are internal, and that he would expect players to stand up and say something in team meetings or gatherings when issues arise.

Stoops said he's willing to give his players the benefit of the doubt in most situations.

"But kids are young and make mistakes and that's just part of it," Stoops said. "We've all made them and they just need to try and learn from their mistakes. I'll always give somebody a second opportunity, but after that I think you have to look at the situation."

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