0

Former, current players defend Auburn against claims by ex-Westover star, three others who say they were paid by Tigers

Photo by Mike Phillips

Photo by Mike Phillips

AUBURN, Ala. -- The latest edition of HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" rocked college football to its very core with a segment that aired Wednesday night with a report that four former Auburn football players -- including former Westover offensive lineman Troy Reddick, who starred at Auburn from 2002-05 -- received money and other benefits from boosters and alumni while playing at Auburn.

Reddick claimed he received cash and improper benefits during his time with the Tigers, and former Auburn players Stanley McClover, Chaz Ramsey and Raven Gray also said they received thousands of dollars in book bags, envelopes and handshakes that were full of cash -- called "money handshakes.''

Tommy Tuberville, Auburn's coach during the recruitment of all four players, did not immediately return calls to The Associated Press. Tuberville is now the head coach at Texas Tech.

But after the report hit newspapers such as The Albany Herald and Internet websites on Tuesday night and Wednesday, several former Auburn players came to the defense of the program.

Auburn offensive lineman Lee Ziemba tweeted Tuesday night that the story was a "couple former players lying to bring our past season down. Keep dreaming fellas."

Ziemba, who started 52 consecutive games for Auburn including in its national title game win against Oregon, told The Sporting News he never saw any money, and added he felt the players who made the claims on HBO had a grudge against the football program.

"I think the guys who have come on the air obviously had something against Auburn," Ziemba told the Sporting News.

"I played with two of them (Chaz Ramsey and Raven Gray). Two of them I know had bad divorces with the university. (Ramsey) got involved in a lawsuit that he didn't win and obviously, must hold a grudge because we went on to win the national championship and were very successful with the guys he came in and was recruited with. I'm not sure what they're trying to say. I walked out the same locker room doors as they did after games. I was recruited by the same men, and didn't see a dime. I did things the right way."

Ziemba was the top-rated player Auburn signed in the much acllaimed recruiting class of 2007, but he was adamant about never getting any money from anyone at Auburn, and said if anything was going on with other players receiving money he felt he would have known about it.

"No, I absolutely did not (receive money)," Ziemba told the Sporting News. "In fact, it was the other way around. Everybody is complaining about (not having) money in college. I remember trying to figure out--I was just talking to my girlfriend about this yesterday--I just got my first credit card yesterday and I was talking about how nice it was not to have to choose between eating food and putting gas in my truck for once.

"Even though now I have money, I told her that would be helpful back when I was in college. That's the way things were. They were late giving us our scholarship checks, we were getting money on the 17th or something like that, late on our rent checks and stuff. We struggled in college. As much as you whined and complained and tried to get money, you weren't getting a dime. So I don't know where all this is coming from."

Auburn center Ryan Pugh, who was a four-year starter and a highly touted member of the 2007 recruiting class, also told the Sporting News that he never saw any money and that if anyone was getting paid that he and others would have known.

"There was probably some bad blood between some of those players who made comments and some things that happened while they were there," Pugh told the Sporting News. "I know with Chaz, he had unfortunate situation with an injury and was no longer able to play. I don't know what the motive is behind this, really.

Pugh said he just can't believe the payouts were being made.

"If things like that are going on, you tend to see your players who have produced more for the university," Pugh told the Sporting News.

"There are things going on out there in Division I college football as far as receiving money from boosters. If that stuff is going on, you would think that some of the major players who are the face of the program would see some of that. For us to have played for four years and to have never seen anything like that, it really makes it hard to believe that stuff like that was really going on."

Former Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves told the AP he was never aware of McClover or any other teammates receiving improper payments.

"I just think it was totally and utterly ridiculous to go and say something like that about the school that gave you so much and then be mad because of selfish reasons," Groves, who is now a Raiders linebacker, told AP in a phone interview Wednesday. "I have no words for them."

He said McClover "was like a brother to me." Groves said he saw his former teammate two weeks ago in Miami, and that McClover only told him HBO was doing a special on his charity.

"I said, 'OK, that's cool. Did you say anything else?'" Groves said. He said McClover responded, "Nah, I just told them about my life."

Groves said HBO contacted him and at least nine other former Auburn players for the report.

Asked if he was ever paid at Auburn, Groves responded: "Never. The only thing I got from Auburn is great memories and the Auburn (career) sack record."

McClover, who spent two years at Auburn before turning pro after the 2005 season, also said he received cash during "money handshakes" with LSU and Michigan State and received sexual favors during a visit to Ohio State.

In a statement, Michigan State spokesman John Lewandowski said, "Our compliance office was never alerted to this alleged handshake."

Ohio State spokeswoman Shelly Poe said the school had no comment because the "the report is so far back and so many years ago and he's just coming forward with it." She said the incident described would have violated "our policies in the NCAA."

Joe Alleva, LSU's vice chancellor and athletic director, said the school would not comment but added that LSU "vigorously enforces NCAA and SEC rules and we work diligently to educate boosters on NCAA rules compliance."

HBO's Andrea Kremer, who did the interviews for the HBO report, appeared on the Dan Patrick radio show Wednesday morning and told Patrick that she tried to get Auburn coaches to comment on the allegations.

Kremer said Tuberville, the head coach during the time the players allegedly received the money "did not comment on this. We reached out on a number of different coaches, and they declined to speak to us,'' she said.

"We reached out to a lot of different people -- to boosters, to coaches, to administrators, to a number of different players -- and what's interesting is that it's an all cash business, and that gives a lot of plausible deniability...so it's difficult."

"I wanted to hear some anecdotes,'' Kremer said on the show. "I wanted to hear from some people who actually have been through it, and I think that's what we tried to provide in the story. Yeah, money handshakes. You hear about them."