A now-disassociated Mississippi State booster allegedly made cash payments to a recruit and arranged for complimentary lodging and meals for the recruit's seven-on-seven coach, Yahoo! Sports has learned.
In an interview with Y! Sports, Nashville-based seven-on-seven coach Byron De'Vinner – recipient of the lodging and meals – explained in detail how former Mississippi State booster Robert Denton Herring broke multiple NCAA rules in 2011 and '12 in an effort to land Memphis East High School defensive back Will Redmond.
De'Vinner said he also told his story to NCAA enforcement representatives, who have been investigating the allegations jointly with Mississippi State's compliance department over the course of several months. In July the school sent Herring, who lives in Roswell, Ga., a letter informing him that he had been disassociated from the athletic program for "impermissible contact" with a recruit. In August, Bulldogs assistant coach Angelo Mirando resigned for what the school termed "unforeseen personal issues," but sources told Y! Sports that his resignation was because of the NCAA inquiry. De'Vinner said Mirando introduced Redmond to Herring, but that the coach and booster both wanted De'Vinner "to take the fall" for their relationship.
Vanessa Brown, Redmond's mother, declined comment to Yahoo! Sports Wednesday morning. Attempts to reach Herring and Mirando were unsuccessful. Herring has not cooperated with investigators from both the NCAA and Mississippi State.
Redmond was a four-star recruit according to Rivals.com and reportedly had offers from Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt, among others. He signed with Mississippi State last February and is currently a freshman on the team. He has not yet played in a college game. Redmond has been interviewed by the NCAA, according to De'Vinner, and there have been multiple media reports that the NCAA interviewed his coach at Memphis East, Marcus Wimberly.
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De'Vinner said another Memphis product, defensive back Sheldon Dawson of Ridgeway High School, also was interviewed recently by the NCAA about his recruitment by Mississippi State. Multiple media outlets have reported that as well. Dawson is a freshman at Georgia and has seen limited action this season. He did not return calls and messages Tuesday.
A source with knowledge of the investigation said the NCAA contacted nearly a dozen players who were recruited by Mississippi State.
De'Vinner said he believes Mirando was the only Mississippi State staff member who knew "Denton" Herring was committing recruiting violations.
"I don't think there were no other coaches in the know, but Denton was dealing with a lot of players over there," De'Vinner said. "Will was the one caught up, but he was dealing with a lot of players."
De'Vinner provided Yahoo! Sports with hotel bills and other documentation to back up his claims of violations. Under NCAA rules, benefits to a third party associated with a prospect are impermissible from any representative of a university. That includes boosters, and Herring – a season-ticket holder prior to being disassociated – fits the definition of a booster.
Because of the ongoing NCAA investigation into Memphis-area prospects – including Auburn signee Jovon Robinson, who was declared ineligible earlier this summer by the NCAA after it discovered the player's high school transcript had been changed – De'Vinner has become the focus of fan interest across the region. He said he came forward to Yahoo! Sports to make public what information he's provided to the NCAA in the hopes of clearing his name. He said he's been accused on fan message boards and in other outlets of being a "bag man" who was selling access to recruits who had played on his seven-on-seven team.
"Not one person out here has given me anything," De'Vinner said. "If me getting gear from schools when I work a camp is a violation, then everything's a violation. … Do I have a relationship with coaches at virtually every school? Yeah, I do.
"I'm the scapegoat for everything that's going on. … I'm telling the truth."
Asked for comment Tuesday night, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin referred to the statement he made last month, which said the school had "worked in cooperation" with the NCAA to investigate "a potential recruiting irregularity" and that the investigation is "nearing the end." Stricklin declined further comment.
NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn declined comment, citing the association's policy of not commenting on current, pending or potential investigations.
De'Vinner said he first met Herring before the South Carolina-Mississippi State football game on Oct. 15, 2011. De'Vinner drove Redmond, who had committed to the Bulldogs in August, to Starkville for the game. De'Vinner said that when they arrived at Davis Wade Stadium, Redmond received a phone call directing them to Herring's tailgate.
"We walk out there, we get to [Herring], they shake hands and Will introduces me to him," De'Vinner said. "We have something to eat at the tailgate, and he tells Will to come back to the tailgate after the game, he has some gas money for him. After the game was over, we go back out there and he gives Will the traditional handshake. Will didn't know what the heck was going on. He tells Will, ‘Shake my hand.' He put the money inside Will's hand. It was probably $150, $200. I'm just guessing how much it was. We get in the car and I told Will, ‘You take this [expletive] to your grave.' The guy was introducing us to other boosters and stuff, saying they were glad to have him at Mississippi State."
De'Vinner said that several weeks later, Redmond told him he had received a jacket from Herring.
In mid-January, Redmond made his official visit to Mississippi State as part of a major recruiting weekend at the school. De'Vinner said Herring encouraged De'Vinner to accompany Redmond to Starkville. De'Vinner said there were multiple NCAA violations committed during that visit.
"Denton said he could hook me up to stay at the Old Waverly Resort," De'Vinner said of the elite golf club with traditional southern lodging in nearby West Point, Miss. De'Vinner stayed in room 13, part of a cottage on the grounds of the club. Such a room currently costs $150 per night according to the Old Waverly website, expensive for rural Mississippi.
"I had no idea what it was," De'Vinner said. "I Googled the address. He told me on Friday that when I got there it was taken care of, to go to the front desk and get the key. I was thinking I had to pay for it. I got there and they had my key already, and so I checked in. Then I go over to State with the coaches and told them, ‘It was like I got lost and wound up at Old Waverly Resort. This place don't belong here.' "
De'Vinner said several Mississippi State coaches knew he was staying at the luxury resort and named recruiting coordinator/safeties coach Tony Hughes, cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith and defensive coordinator/line coach Chris Wilson.
De'Vinner provided Yahoo! Sports with a copy of his hotel receipt for that trip which showed his room listed as "complimentary," with no charge. The only charge for his stay was a $55 cleaning fee, plus $4.40 in taxes on the cleaning charge. But De'Vinner said he never paid the cleaning fee and was never asked to pay it.
"I know for a fact [the Mississippi State coaches] didn't have any idea how it was arranged," De'Vinner said. "Denton told me to ask for Shane [Williams, director of lodging at Old Waverly] when I got to the front desk. Shane and I talked for a while before I went to my room. He told me I would be the only one in the cottage that night. I was so amazed at how nice the room was with the marble floors. I didn't want to leave. When I met the coaches and the recruits parents at some hibachi restaurant is when I told everyone about where I was staying and how nice it was. The coaches told me they usually go out there and play golf."
De'Vinner also said that on Redmond's official visit to Mississippi State he ate at least one complimentary meal at Anthony's Good Food Market, a restaurant in nearby West Point, Miss. De'Vinner said Herring instructed him to speak with the owner of the restaurant, Ray Hamilton, and to say that he was sent there by Herring and his bill would be taken care of.
De'Vinner said he ate complimentary meals at Anthony's on three separate trips to Starkville.
"Ray met me," De'Vinner said. "He knows who I am. Denton told me to let Ray know I was there."
On Saturday night, Jan. 14, De'Vinner said he went to the Hilton Garden Inn, in Starkville, where Redmond and the other recruits were staying and went into Redmond's room to talk to him. De'Vinner said during that visit, Herring called Redmond.
"At that point in time, Will told me, ‘I got to get with Denton, I need some more money.' " De'Vinner recalled. "I said, ‘More money? Money for what?' He said, ‘He's already gave me some. I need some more.' I said, ‘Will, you need to chill out. This is going to get you in trouble.' "
During the official visit, Mirando told De'Vinner that Mississippi State wanted to interview him for a staff position as an assistant recruiting coordinator. De'Vinner said that about two weeks later – shortly before National Signing Day – he returned to Starkville and had a seven-hour interview.
De'Vinner said he had lunch with Hughes, Mississippi State's recruiting coordinator and safeties coach, then met with director of player personnel/high school relations Rockey Felker, then was taken to meet with the Mississippi State compliance staff. After that, De'Vinner said he met with most of the staff before having a 20-minute discussion with head coach Dan Mullen. De'Vinner said he received about $300 from the university as a reimbursement for his travel to the interview and lodging.
"The interview was supposed to be a formality to pretty much get Will [to sign]," De'Vinner said. "But after I interviewed it shocked them, because of the way I sold myself, and it went from being a formality to they wanted to hire me. Compliance wasn't sure because I didn't have any experience in the position, and so did the athletic director [Scott Stricklin]."
Under current bylaws, hiring a non-scholastic coach for a non-coaching position would be an NCAA violation in college basketball, but not in football. However, there is ongoing NCAA discussion about broadening that rule to also cover football as the influence of third parties grows in that sport.
Days after the interview, De'Vinner said Mullen called to tell him he did not get the job, but still wanted him to come back to Mississippi State to speak at a clinic in mid-April. De'Vinner said he made two visits to Starkville in April – one was to speak at the coaching clinic, and the other was for the Mississippi State spring game. De'Vinner said he received roughly $700 from the university for a speaking fee and to cover his lodging and travel expenses for the three-day clinic.
"At that point, I think Will had been interviewed by the NCAA," De'Vinner said. "Mirando told me they wanted me to take the fall, to say I introduced Denton to Will at the South Carolina game. I said, 'No, I'm not going to hang myself. And plus, that's not what happened.'
"So him and Denton said they'd take the blame for it. I said, ‘Whatever, I'm not doing it.' Whenever Angelo was interviewed [by the NCAA] was the last time I had any communication with him or Denton."
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