One of the youngest and most high-profile football coaches in Connecticut has become embroiled in a scandal after an opposing coach accused he and his staff of brazenly cheating in a tense game last week.
According to the Hartford Courant, former UConn quarterback and wide receiver D.J. Hernandez, now the head football coach at Southington (Conn.) High, somehow acquired an armband lost by a Manchester (Conn.) High receiver in the game between the two teams last Friday. Manchester coach Marco Pizzoferatto claims that the armband had all of his team's coded plays on it, which allowed Hernandez to hear which play the Manchester quarterback was calling at the line of scrimmage and tell his defensive captains what was coming via his coaching headset. Manchester traditionally calls its plays at the line of scrimmage while using a rapid strike no-huddle offense.
"Southington somehow got it and used it," Pizzoferrato told the Courant. "When our quarterback [Seth DeValve] called the play, D.J. looked down at his clipboard at the arm band, said the play into his headset and then their defensive coaches yelled what was coming to their defense. You can see it on the game films."
Southington's additional defensive readiness appeared to dramatically alter the game. With the two teams tied 14-14 in the third quarter, Hernandez and his coaching staff were able to make defensive adjustments that shut out Manchester for the game's final 20:30. Southington ended up winning, 28-14.
While it's possible those defensive changes all came from organic analysis, that seems unlikely. Hernandez isn't pleading outright innocence in the matter, either.
"That game is over," Hernandez told the Courant. "What's in the past is in the past. The Southington football program and the community are first-class, from the faculty, to the water boys, to the coaches, to the football players."
Hernandez's athletic director, Southington's Eric Swallow, refused to comment on the matter.
Despite the lack of comments from Southington, the evidence against Hernandez is fairly extensive. Pizzoferrato claims there is ample video evidence of the former UConn star looking directly at the armband on his clipboard, and the Manchester coach said he confronted Hernandez after the game about the incident, with the Southington coach refusing to confirm or deny he was using the armband.
Pizzoferrato claims that's enough to prove it affected his team, and that action should be taken by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, with which the Manchester coach plans to file an official protest.
"I'm disgusted," he said. "It's very upsetting because what's the message to our players, that it's all right to cheat, that there's no penalty for that? After the game, our coaches refused to shake hands with their coaches. I confronted D.J. about using the armband after the game, and he didn't say anything about it. I know I have the truth on my side."
Pizzoferrato said that Hernandez's using the plays from [receiver Marquis] Jimenez's armband, also known as a "wrist coach," weakened his team's offense.
"We operate best in the no-huddle where Seth can look over the defense, see blitz possibilities and call audibles," Pizzoferrato said. "He'd call a play and they knew exactly what it was. When we realized that, we had to go back to our regular huddle. It definitely hurt us, hurt our flow and changed our whole team's mentality of the game."