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Published: Friday, 1/24/2003

Hefflin creates sticky situation for Amstutz

University of Toledo football coach Tom Amstutz will win points in the court of public opinion if he shows junior cornerback Brandon Hefflin tough love and prevents him from rejoining the Rockets next year.

An apparently-intoxicated Hefflin was arrested by Toledo police outside The Top Shelf bar early Sunday morning and charged with one count each of escape, assault, resisting arrest and criminal trespass.

Amstutz, who suspended Hefflin indefinitely and made no promises he will be allowed to return to the team for his final season, expects to wait until Hefflin's legal situation is resolved and he's convinced the player is responding positively to counseling. A preliminary court hearing is set for March 14.

“He's done with all football activities until I'm satisfied that this is behind him,” Amstutz said yesterday.

By all accounts, Hefflin, a three-year starter on the football team, is a nice, quiet kid who minds his business. Amstutz said he was shocked by Hefflin's behavior.

It's a dicey, messy situation.

There's a perception that Amstutz is soft, a big teddy bear who defends his players no matter what. Amstutz didn't hide from that perception yesterday.

“I believe this is an isolated incident,” Amstutz said. “This is a case of college binge drinking. Brandon had too much alcohol and acted a fool.”

Amstutz said he's more concerned about Hefflin's development as a person than a football player. Agreed. Hefflin needs to concentrate on academics and social development.

However, this is a situation where Hefflin needs an authority figure in his life - in this case his football coach - to convey a message that public intoxication, fighting in a night club and then fighting with police is unacceptable and won't be tolerated at the University of Toledo.

Trust me, if Amstutz allows Hefflin to play next season and the Rockets are involved in another negative incident, Amstutz could be viewed as losing control of his team.

Amstutz wrote a letter to The Blade defending some of his players for their behavior in an ugly Motor City Bowl loss to Boston College, a game in which two Rockets were ejected. In Amstutz's first season, UT was penalized frequently and appeared to lack discipline.

When police arrived at The Top Shelf, Hefflin, who suffered injuries to his face and head and had one eye swollen shut, spat and cursed at officers and bragged, “I'm a football player for UT and I can do what I want,'' according to police. At the Medical College of Ohio Hospitals, Hefflin told police he took high-school recruits to The Top Shelf and that he fought “[former UT football star] Chester Taylor and his boys.”

Amstutz denied that Hefflin escorted recruits to an adult drinking establishment or that Hefflin fought Taylor, the school's all-time rushing leader who plays for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. Amstutz chalked it up to Hefflin drinking too much - nearly three times the legal limit in Ohio.

Amstutz's “boys will be boys” defense of Hefflin is commendable but misses the mark. Hefflin needs help more than he needs football.



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