KFOX 14 Speak Up - Stop Bullying
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By Genevieve Curtis
EL PASO, TEXAS - Football players from across the country arrived in El Paso in July for what they thought was a chance to play on a college prep team and make their dreams of playing college ball a reality. Now KFOX14 Investigates learned they aren't getting what they were promised and the founder of the program is nowhere to be found. The El Paso Bandits, composed of more than 30 players from states like Florida, Alabama and even a couple from England, all came to El Paso in July with one goal in mind.“I’m just trying to play the best level I can,” said Tunde Akindele from England. “Just a chance to further my education and play the game I love with a group of good guys,” said Mark Miller from Alabama. The Bandits is the team name for the El Paso Prep Football Academy. The academy offers high school grads a second chance to get college scholarships. Many of them were scouted in high school but didn’t have the test scores or GPA to earn a scholarship. Other players had season-ending injuries their senior year or didn’t get as much playing time as they needed. “My test scores weren't that good but my GPA was high so I came out here for a second chance to play football and go Division One,” said Derrick Harris from Dallas. EPPFA is designed to give the players exposure through practice film and away games while they take classes at EPPC and re-take the standardized tests. But now the second opportunity they sought in the Sun City may be stripped away from them before they can ever suit up. “I was really going to need to shut down the program,” said assistant coach Eric Maldonado. That’s because head coach, Farasi Norman has seemingly abandoned the team. Norman claimed to be having health problems and then skipped town. He turned the team over to Maldonado, and that’s when Maldonado discovered the team's bank account was cleaned out and closed. “It’s rough,” said Maldonado. It's shocking to parents who sent their kids to El Paso to focus on school and football and furthering their football careers.Most of the parents are hundreds if not thousands of miles away from their kids. “As a dad that makes you feel helpless,” said Derrick Harris Senior from Dallas. He said Coach Norman hasn't answered a single one of his phone calls, emails or text messages. “That makes us feel that not only did you abandon our kids, but you planned it. Maybe it was a scam,” said Harris. When KFOX14 Investigates called coach Norman, his voice mail said he is no longer the coach of EPPFA. KFOX14 Investigates learned starting teams and bailing on them might be straight out of Norman’s playbook. He did the same thing in Albuquerque in 2009, suddenly shutting down the “New Mexico Prep Program.” Norman is also linked to the “West Texas Prep Wranglers.” In 2009, he suddenly shut down the New Mexico program, leaving players stranded and assistant coaches scrambling to hold the team together. “I was hurt, like I said he promised everybody so much,” said Maldonado. Charges were apparently never filed against Norman in Albuquerque because the contract parents and players signed waives their right to a refund. Parent like Harris tell KFOX14 they don't want their money back, they want what they paid for. They call it a breach of contract as the promises Norman made to them are all unraveling. Parents said Norman claimed to be associated with El Paso Community College and told them that's where the Bandits would practice and play their games. In actuality, there is no affiliation with EPCC and the team practices at an east side park. Parents said they were also promised tutoring, study halls, ACT and SAT prep courses, none of that has happened.Also, a 12-game scheduled schedule shrank to six, and most of them are away games. But without any money in the team account, travel is questionable and the season is in jeopardy “If we can't get any donations, we will need to shut down the program,” said Maldonado. More than 30 players paid between $1,000 and $2,500 for the academy.Norman also didn't pay the coaches before bailing on the Bandits. “I do question, what happened to the rest of the money?” said Maldonado. “It really hurt at first but then Coach M stepped in the picture and he is really picking us up,” said Lamar Dumes from Florida. All of the players are enrolling on their own at EPCC while trying to get a second look from major football programs. “My goal is to go to Texas Tech,” said Harris. “We’re going to be out here, we’re going to be out here, working hard every day,” said Desmond Halton from Dallas. Now it will take a team effort to huddle up and persevere. “We will get through it some way; it’s always been a struggle,” said Harris. Players who didn't know each other a month ago and most who had never even been to El Paso are forming a family and forging ahead. “I think we are going to come together as a family and do what we came here to do,” said Dumes. “One team, one goal, one family, we are all trying to accomplish the same thing,” said Miller. They plan to win on the field and in the classroom, to take their gridiron game to the next level. “You’re going to hear about us going undefeated,” said Halton. At least one parent from Florida has filed a police report with the city of El Paso against Coach Norman. The El Paso County Attorney’s Office is recommending parents file police reports. Thursday afternoon, coach Norman posted an open letter on the team website where he apologized for his absence and claims he became "overwhelmed" by work. He also makes reference to brain surgery. Norman goes on to say, “I think I did a pretty good job considering I started this program with zero dollars and no support from the community." He still has not returned KFOX14 calls for a comment. Some of the players have received interest from Division I schools across the country including Auburn and Florida State. The team needs $25,000 to keep the season alive, and they are looking for sponsorships from local businesses. Contact: Coach Eric Maldonado: 915-258-9243
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