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Family, friends support local Buckeyes facing accusations
In the weeks after a Sports Illustrated investigation into the Ohio State football program and former head coach Jim Tressel unearthed new accusations against current Buckeyes, family and friends have asserted their innocence while the players have met with NCAA and OSU compliance officials.
Two of the nine current players named in the article posted on SI’s website on May 30 are local products — defensive backs Zach Domicone (Beavercreek High School) and C.J. Barnett (Northmont). Accused in the article of trading memorabilia and autographs for tattoos or money, the players have strongly argued their innocence, according to family members and former coaches.
“It is not true,” said Fred Domicone, father of Zach Domicone. “You can’t say it any simpler than that.”
Collin Abels, the Northmont defensive coordinator who remains close with Barnett, said the cornerback “adamantly denies what was reported in the story.”
Family members of at least three of the other seven players have spoken out harshly against the article, which was posted the day Tressel announced his resignation.
Ohio State has told players not to talk with reporters; SI has said it stands by its story.
In the nearly two weeks since, Domicone, Barnett and others named have spoken with investigators and have organized memorabilia and receipts while dealing with the fallout.
Especially difficult for players was the timing of the article, which came out during a week when many took final exams.
“He said, ‘I can’t focus,’ ” Fred Domicone said of Zach. “I told him not to worry about it and just tell the truth.”
The Sports Illustrated article came five months after Ohio State announced that six players — quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive lineman Mike Adams, defensive end Solomon Thomas and linebacker Jordan Whiting — violated NCAA rules by selling memorabilia or accepting improper benefits.
In the months since, OSU has faced a stream of stories accusing Tressel of lying to NCAA officials about his knowledge of the players’ association with a Columbus tattoo parlor owner and auto dealerships giving discounted deals to players.
SI investigative reporters arrived in Columbus in May and started digging. Their reporting produced a source — given the pseudonym “Ellis” in the article — who said he once worked at the Columbus tattoo parlor. Beyond the six previously named players, he said there were nine more who had violated NCAA rules: Domicone, Barnett, linebacker Dorian Bell, running back Jaamal Berry, running back Bo DeLande, linebacker Storm Klein, linebacker Etienne Sabino and defensive linemen John Simon and Nathan Williams.
Fred Domicone learned of the accusations against his son while driving back from a Memorial Day weekend trip. He said he was stunned.
“People were saying something would be coming out,” Fred Domicone said. “But I didn’t know it would be something like this.”
For players already coping with Tressel’s resignation — he had previously been fined $250,000 and suspended for the first five games of 2011 for admitted violations — seeing their names in the article was an extra hit.
“He called me the morning Coach Tressel resigned,” Abels said of Barnett. “He was just devastated.”
Stating their case
Fred Domicone said Zach learned of the tattoo parlor in question when he arrived at Ohio State in 2008. Not knowing many people there, he was told the tattoo parlor was a gathering place. He went twice, his father said.
“He called and said he wouldn’t be going back,” Fred Domicone said. “He said it was kind of a shady place.”
Fred Domicone said one of the family’s first moves once the SI article was posted was collecting Zach’s memorabilia in his room at Ohio State and photographing it. He said the timing further stressed his son, who was studying for final exams. In one two-day stretch, he met with OSU compliance officials at night, took an exam the next day and met with NCAA investigators afterward.
Barnett also has been accounting for his memorabilia while meeting with NCAA officials, Abels said.
“He felt like he had done everything right since he had been there, so he was hurt by the accusations,” Abels said.
“He said, ‘I’ve saved the receipts from my tattoos. I’ve never failed a drug test. This is the farthest thing from the truth.’ ”
Barnett’s mother, contacted by the Daily News, refused to comment on the story.
Klein’s father was the first to speak to reporters following the article’s posting. He told ESPN.com he considered legal action against SI.
“My son has no tattoos on his body,” Klein’s father told ESPN.com. “I have all of his memorabilia. What has been written is preposterous. My son has been routinely tested for drugs and has never had a positive test.”
In the ensuing days, parents of Simon and Williams also asserted their sons’ innocence. Simon’s father told The Columbus Dispatch that his son had never been to the tattoo parlor and that by Monday night a “support group of coaches and others” was already in place in Columbus.
Williams’ mother told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer that she and Williams’ father possessed all of his Gold Pants — awards for OSU players on Buckeyes teams that beat Michigan — bowl jerseys and rings.
“He told me, ‘I just want to put the pieces of this team back together and play our season,’ ” she told The Plain Dealer.
Fred Domicone and Abels said the local players feel the same and hope the issue can be resolved soon.
“People who know him,” Fred Domicone said, “know that’s not true.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-7389 or knagel@DaytonDailyNews.com.