Players ordered to hit ref can return to school next semester, lawyer says

ByJohn Barr ESPN logo
Thursday, September 24, 2015

Two Texas high school football players who hit a referee in a Sept. 4 game at the direction of the team's assistant coach will be eligible to return to their school for the spring semester, the players' lawyer told ESPN on Wednesday. The decision comes after individual hearings were held by the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio.

The two John Jay High School players, 15-year-old Victor Rojas and 17-year-old Michael Moreno, have been assigned to an alternative school and have been prohibited from even watching John Jay games as spectators. The punishment for the two teens, according to their attorney, Jesse Hernandez, is 75 days in the alternative school. With credit for time they have already spent there, the boys will be eligible to return to John Jay when the semester starts on Jan. 15.

"Obviously the boys wanted to return to John Jay High School immediately, but we think this punishment is within the bounds of fairness, and the boys have accepted responsibility for their actions," Hernandez said.

Northside ISD released a statement saying that two disciplinary hearings were held, one for each player, to address "violations of the Student Code of Conduct."

"Because both are minors and protected by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), NISD cannot release any information about any consequences assigned at the hearings or confirm their names," the statement read.

Moreno, a senior, is done with football at John Jay because he'll be in the alternative school for the balance of this semester. But Hernandez said nothing in Wednesday's ruling by a Northside Independent School District hearing officer prevents Rojas, a sophomore, from playing football next year.

That could change Thursday, when the University Interscholastic League meets in Round Rock, Texas. The UIL, the governing body of Texas high school athletics, could sanction Rojas; the assistant coach, Mack Breed; and John Jay's football program. Rojas could be suspended from football, and John Jay's season could be canceled.

The hearings come on the heels of an Outside the Lines report that Breed told John Jay principal Robert Harris that he ordered his players to hit the referee out of anger that the official used racist language, according to evidence obtained by OTL.

In a signed statement detailing his interactions with head coach Gary Gutierrez after the game, Harris said Breed, the team's secondary coach, admitted he "directed the students to make the referee pay for his racial comments and calls."

On Sept. 4, Rojas and Moreno blindsided official Robert Watts late in the fourth quarter of a game in Marble Falls, Texas, on a deliberate tackle from behind. The incident was captured on video and has nearly 11 million views on YouTube.

According to a sideline source and the accounts provided to Outside the Lines of four John Jay players, Watts used the N-word twice during the game, once before and once after the infamous hits, and also used language offensive to Hispanics.

Watts has declined to comment, but his attorney, Alan Goldberger, said Watts denies he used racist remarks of any kind.

Harris' statement detailed a meeting the day after the game, in which Breed admitted calling for the hit.

"I later met with Coach Breed at John Jay High School ... in my office in the presence of Coach Gutierrez," Harris wrote. "Coach Breed told me that he directed the students to make the referee pay for his racial comments and calls. He wanted to take full responsibility for his actions. Mr. Breed at one point during our conversation stated that he should have handled the referee himself."

Breed has declined to comment publicly about what he told his players. He is expected to attend the UIL's meeting on Thursday.

Had the students been found guilty of violating the Student Code of Conduct, the range of consequences could have ranged "from assignment to alternative school to expulsion," a school district spokesperson said.

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