For the third time this offseason, Braden River High’s football program finds itself in trouble.
The Florida High School Athletic Association, after an investigation by the Manatee County School District and Braden River High, found impermissible benefits were given to one current and one former Pirates player.
They were Knowledge McDaniel and Deshaun Fenwick.
McDaniel, who is entering his senior season and has offers from numerous college football teams, including Ohio State, was ruled ineligible until August 2019 by the FHSAA.
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Manatee County athletic director Jason Montgomery told the Bradenton Herald the school and district will appeal McDaniel’s ineligible status at the next FHSAA sectional appeal committee meeting Sept. 6 in Bradenton.
Unless the ruling is overturned, McDaniel can practice, but he can’t play in any games.
Fenwick is a freshman running back at the University of South Carolina.
Montgomery said both players improperly moved in with families of other Braden River football players. At least one of the families is a member of the school’s booster club.
“If you hear either one of these stories front and end, and you didn’t know it was an athlete and a booster, you would say that’s a family that stepped up and really helped a kid be successful,” Montgomery said.
Braden River was also fined $5,000 — $2,500 for each player — and forced to forfeit all games from the 2017 season, where the Pirates lost twice and were eliminated in the playoffs by Venice High. The school also was placed on administrative probation for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.
“It became very clear that it wasn’t the intent of the rule to get somebody like this,” Montgomery said. “You have two kids that had tremendous needs and you had two families, whose sons were friends of them, step up and help them out. Both of them were four-year Braden River kids, so there was no recruiting aspect to it or anything like that.”
Earlier this offseason, the FHSAA and Manatee School District levied disciplinary action against Braden River’s football program for various other infractions.
The state found Braden River had improper offseason football practices before the start of spring football, which led to a $40,000 fine — with only $1,600 due and $38,400 held in abeyance — and the cancellation of the Pirates’ spring game against Immokalee High.
Braden River also used an improper college recruiting Hudl account, which allowed access to opponents’ game footage. Sarasota County and Hudl each conducted an investigation, finding Braden River had access to Venice High, North Port High, Sarasota High and Sarasota Booker High accounts. Hudl released a statement to the Herald that they revoked all access to Hudl and alerted the appropriate parties after investigating the matter.
Hudl did not say what measures they were taking in the future to prevent it from happening again.
Montgomery said Wednesday’s investigation started well before the spring practice violations.
“This is all previous stuff and ever since we went through the practice issue and they lost spring, Braden River has been in constant contact with my office and with FHSAA,” Montgomery said. “And they’ve done everything they can to ensure they are compliant moving forward.”
In a press release, the Manatee County School District said it and Braden River High became aware of an anonymous letter with several “sensational allegations.”
An investigation into the allegations was later started due to the letter being “shared openly on social media,” the press release stated.
Montgomery told the Herald only two items in the lengthy list of allegations were of concern from their investigation, which were the impermissible benefits and the Hudl violations.
“Braden River owns it,” Montgomery said. “There were mistakes that they made. Even in this one, there were missteps that we could have corrected by better educate boosters and people like that affiliated with the program.”
According to the report, the FHSAA attained the letter via email on July 25. That began the FHSAA’s investigation, which included an on campus visit on Wednesday, Aug. 1, to obtain a response to the allegations from Braden River. Following the visit, documentation was submitted on Aug. 2 and Aug. 7 to support Braden River’s findings, the report stated.
A violation of FHSAA Policy 37.2, which deals with impermissible benefits, was determined.