By TIM REYNOLDSAP Sports WriterCORAL GABLES — Two Miami players said Friday they were trying to focus on the coming season and not possible sanctions after a dozen teammates were implicated in a scandal that could alter the future of Hurricanes football.
Center Tyler Horn and running back Mike James were the first Miami players to meet reporters since convicted Ponzi-scheme architect and former university booster Nevin Shapiro claimed that he provided money, prostitutes, cars and gifts to some current and former Hurricanes in a story Yahoo Sports published Tuesday.
The NCAA has been investigating Miami for five months, and the school is bracing for the possibility of stiff penalties at some point.
“Well, of course, it was a shock to hear those allegations,” Horn said. “But we’re focused on football. That’s all we can focus on. That’s all we can control.”
Miami’s decision to allow Horn and James to take the first questions posed to players since the scandal broke was not entirely coincidental. Not only are they among the most expressive Hurricanes, but neither is among the current players implicated in the report.
“Life is easy regardless,” James said. “We just know we don’t pay attention to outside things. We just focus on us, and that’s about it.”
Horn and James were the only two speakers before Miami’s practice Friday morning. Coach Al Golden opted to take a day off from briefing reporters, clearly weary of discussing the scandal. Golden was not implicated in the story, since all the events Shapiro detailed to Yahoo Sports allegedly took place between 2002 and 2010. Golden was hired in December, months after Shapiro was placed into custody for masterminding a $930 million Ponzi scheme.
The scandal broke just days after NCAA President Mark Emmert led a group of university presidents — including Miami’s Donna Shalala — in drafting an outline for change in college sports.
“She’s been a terrific leader in higher education, and I have great respect for her,” Emmert told The Associated Press on Friday. “I can only imagine how much she’s struggling with this, like I would have been if this had happened on my watch.”
Shalala released a statement earlier this week, as did Miami athletic director Shawn Eichorst, but neither has fielded questions because of the ongoing investigations.
Shapiro is serving a 20-year prison sentence. He has also been ordered to pay more than $82 million to bilked investors. He was in the midst of being transported by federal officials from Atlanta to a still-undisclosed final destination — possibly South Florida — on Friday, according to his attorney, Maria Elena Perez.
Neither Horn nor James would say if they spoke to any of the current players. who were implicated by Shapiro about the scandal. Shapiro claims he threw lavish parties at his home and on his yacht, provided cash to recruits and paid for 39 players to have sex with prostitutes. Among those named by Shapiro include NFL stars Jon Beason, Frank Gore, Devin Hester, Andre Johnson, Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, Jon Vilma and Vince Wilfork.
Most of the NFL players named in the story have either declined comment or denied the claims made by Shapiro.
“I am concerned,” Rolle said this week. “I am concerned because this is bringing unnecessary drama to the program that doesn’t need to be. I am a Miami guy at heart and I always will be a Miami guy at heart. I just want these players to have the same fortunate career as I had and other people had. But right now there is a lot of drama going on and it’s all caused by one guy, one angry guy.”
Those current Hurricanes listed in the story include quarterback Jacory Harris, safeties Vaughn Telemaque and Ray Ray Armstrong, receivers Travis Benjamin and Aldarius Johnson, defensive linemen Marcus Forston, Olivier Vernon, Marcus Robinson and Adewale Ojomo, tight end Dyron Dye, defensive back JoJo Nicholas and linebacker Sean Spence — many of whom are expected to play key roles for the team in 2011.
“That’s something I don’t speak on,” James said. “I just worry about football and let coach and the NCAA handle that.”
All Miami players were involved with practice Friday. Nicholas returned after missing part of Thursday to tend to a family matter unrelated to the investigation.
Horn said players were not fretting about the possibility that some of those 12 implicated players might be deemed ineligible by the university for at least part of the season.
“The way we’ve been taught from the very beginning is that the depth chart’s in sand,” Horn said. “So we don’t even know who’s going to start the first game. All we can do is come out here and play as hard as we can.”
Added James: “We’ve got tunnel vision.”
Some around the program wonder if the distractions will simply be too much for the Hurricanes, in their first year under Golden and coming off a disappointing 7-6 season. Or it could bring the team closer.
“It’s going to be us-against-the-world,” Horn said. “That’s all we can focus on. The only thing that matters is the people that are inside that Hecht (the facility housing the Hurricanes’ football complex). All the people that matter are the people on this football field playing every day. Those are my brothers and we’re going to stick together.”
Miami joined a growing list of schools with major football programs to be investigated by the NCAA for rule-breaking in the past 18 months. Others include Southern California, Ohio State, Auburn, Oregon, Michigan, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and LSU.
Shapiro began making his allegations about a year ago. He told Yahoo Sports that 72 football players and other athletes at Miami received improper benefits from him in the past decade.
The NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations doesn’t apply when there is a pattern of willful violations that continues into the past four years.