December 26, 2008
Just before the holiday, readers in Big Ten country may have come across the sad tale of Indiana cornerback Cortez Smith, highlight of the Hoosiers' 2008 recruiting class, who last week was arrested for breaking into an apartment in Bloomington and briefly getting away with wallets, cell phones, iPods, an Xbox and marijuana. Smith and another man, 19-year-old Lazell McClellon (not a football player), were nabbed when police searched and found the items in another apartment in the same complex.
They may also recall in those accounts that victims of the robbery told police a 6'7", 300-plus-pound visitor already in the apartment when Smith and McClellan punched their way in, rather than try to fight or intimidate the intruders with his size, had crawled to the front door and closed it to potential witnesses. This week, Indiana's Daily Student reported the shrinking behemoth was IU offensive lineman Dennis Zeigler, an apparent accomplice, and his very reluctant cooperation has ensnared two other Hoosier freshmen, safety Jarell Drane and linebacker Darius Johnson, who share the apartment where the alleged thieves (stupidly) fled and were quickly caught. Among the football players, to date only Smith has been hit with felony robbery and burglary charges (he's been indefinitely suspended by coach Bill Lynch, as well), but all four players were named in an affidavit filed last Friday.
And what led these young teammates to put their promising futures at substantial risk?
Zeigler told officers that McClellon was a friend of Johnson's. McClellon told Zeigler that night he wanted to rob someone and asked him if he knew anyone that they could rob. Zeigler told him that there two people in the apartment building complex that would probably have marijuana, according to the affidavit.
Zeigler told officers that he then called Smith who came to assist the robbery. The three men came up with a plan that would place Zeigler in the apartment as a victim, according to the affidavit.
After the robbery, the men went back to Johnson's apartment to trash the items they stole.
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"Hey, relative stranger with something to lose, I feel like committing a completely pointless felony on top of four pending felonies I have in another state. Who can we rob?" ... "Yeah, I think I can ruin everything I have going for me in 4-C, I know those people. Let me call a friend, he'll want in on the chance to wreck his opportunity here for no particular reason, too."
Even from the perspective of a criminal, this makes no sense: Robbery for the sake of robbery -- not even for money -- is beyond stupid in itself, but when you have a free ride to a major four-year university that offers not only a degree but a chance to ply your potentially lucrative athletic talents at the same time? For the sake of their future selves, banging their head into the wall after job interviews, I hope there's something more to this than a little weed. Please.