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2013-11-20 / News

After assault, VSU defends team: ‘a rush to judgment’

By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


A large group of Virginia State University football players attended a news conference Monday, during which university officials discussed the premature end of the Trojans’ 2013 season. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer A large group of Virginia State University football players attended a news conference Monday, during which university officials discussed the premature end of the Trojans’ 2013 season. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer The image of Chesterfield County’s lone four-year college has taken multiple hits over the past seven months.

Since April 17, two Virginia State University students have been arrested and convicted for their roles in an April 17 on-campus drug robbery that ended in the murder of a Petersburg man.

Two others drowned while attempting to cross the Appomattox River as part of their initiation into an unsanctioned, off-campus social fraternity.

Even the school’s former student government president found himself embroiled in a hazing scandal.

By comparison, the latest blemish on the Ettrick university’s reputation might appear fairly insignificant.

But VSU President Keith Miller insisted during a news conference Monday morning that his administration will “work vigorously” to investigate events that prompted the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) to cancel its football championship game between VSU and Winston-Salem State University last Saturday.

“We have zero tolerance for violence – on this campus or off,” Miller said.

VSU sophomore running back Lamont Britt was arrested last Friday by campus police at Winston-Salem State University and charged with assaulting the opposing team’s quarterback, Rudy Johnson.

VSU’s football team had traveled to North Carolina Friday morning for a banquet hosted by the CIAA prior to the conference’s title game, which was to be held the following day on the WSSU campus.

VSU spokesman Thomas Reed declined to discuss further specifics of the case, citing an ongoing investigation.

“We’re not going to engage in conjecture and speculation,” he said.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Johnson excused himself during the banquet and went to the restroom, where he allegedly was confronted by multiple VSU football players. Johnson subsequently identified Britt as the person who struck him in the face, according to the paper.

Fearing further violence, CIAA officials opted to cancel the championship game – a decision that effectively ended one of the most successful seasons in the history of VSU’s football program.

The Trojans, who could have qualified for the Division II playoffs as an at-large selection even with a loss to WSSU, finished their season with 9-1 record. As a result of the altercation, the CIAA ruled Virginia State ineligible for postseason competition.

“As you all know, things in life happen, and when things happen, right or wrong, you deal with them head on,” said Latrell Scott, VSU’s first-year head coach. “We are committed as a university and an athletic department to deal with this situation honestly, truthfully and with integrity.”

Scott confirmed that four of his players were questioned by WSSU campus police, and that Britt was the only one taken into custody.

Britt has been suspended indefinitely from the team pending a university investigation, which Miller said he hopes will be completed within a week.

While noting that “we don’t condone or teach that type of behavior,” Scott defended his players and suggested that there was “a rush to judgment” by both the media and CIAA officials in the aftermath of Friday’s incident.

Directly addressing the group of players who attended Monday’s news conference, Scott told them they should be “extremely proud of who you are on and off the field.”

“One young man made a bad decision, as young men sometimes do,” he added. “But there is no way possible for a group of young men to come together and accomplish what you have in such a short period of time if you’re not doing the right things.”

Several parents of VSU football players attended the news conference and questioned the fairness of punishing an entire team for the actions of one person.

“I just wish things had worked out differently,” said Kimberley Thorpe, mother of senior quarterback Justin Thorpe.

Miller empathized with the affected players and their families, saying “We’re as frustrated and dismayed as anyone” at the cancellation of the championship game.

“It’s been challenging for everyone involved,” he added. “We’re doing the best we can.”

Asked about the university’s image in light of another negative incident involving a student, Miller insisted that such episodes don’t “define who we are or define our student body.”

“In each case, we acted quickly and decisively,” he said. “We will continue trying to educate our students to make good choices.”

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