Bellotti defends recruiting of felon.
Oregon football coach Mike Bellotti defended the Ducks' recruitment of convicted felon Rodney Woods on Friday, and questioned the Los Angeles Daily News' characterization of a letter he wrote to the court in support of Woods.
Woods, a junior college all-American at cornerback for Fresno City College the past two seasons, was convicted of felony assault and served eight months in jail following an altercation that took place at a party in Palmdale, Calif., on May 19, 2000, the Daily News reported Thursday.
Oregon has accepted a signed letter of intent from Woods contingent on his conviction being reduced from a felony to a lesser charge, Bellotti said.
Two of Woods' high school classmates were sentenced to prison terms for voluntary manslaughter in the death of a second victim in the same incident, though Woods wasn't charged in that case.
Woods was convicted in the assault of another student at the party, and is currently involved in proceedings in Lancaster (Calif.) Superior Court to reduce his conviction to a misdemeanor so he can accept the scholarship at Oregon, according to the newspaper report.
On Thursday, the judge in the reduction hearing continued the procedure until Feb. 28 so that "a court-ordered psychologist can examine Woods to determine whether he poses a danger to society," the report said.
Bellotti and UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti submitted letters to the court supporting Woods in his effort to get his life back on track and urging a speedy decision.
The Daily News characterized the letters as an effort to urge the court "to reduce the felony and give Woods a second chance."
Bellotti said Friday there is a distinction between showing support for Woods and actually urging the court to reduce the felony conviction.
"My concern in all this is that the letters that were submitted by myself and Nick Aliotti only asked for an expedient conclusion to the situation - asked for no change in the judge's ruling or anything else," Bellotti said Friday. "I take exception to the article in that regard."
In his letter, dated Jan. 18, Bellotti tells the court of the signed letter of intent, then makes his case for the "expedient decision."
"Obviously, we are not asking the court to change the law or to do anything that is out of the ordinary," Bellotti wrote.
"However, according to Rodney's coaches and professors at Fresno City College, he has done everything asked of him in terms of his probation, his behavior, his citizenship in the community, and represented Fresno City College very well.
"His admission to the University of Oregon, and his ability to accept a full-ride scholarship and get on with his life depends entirely on the felony charge being reduced down to a misdemeanor.
`He will not be allowed to enroll in our university or any university, as I understand at this point, unless that is done. There are time constraints that affect his admission status."
Oregon begins its spring term on March 31, and Woods would be eligible to participate in spring drills if he enrolled for the upcoming term.
"We're not asking for anything other than an expedient decision to allow Rodney to get on with his life," Bellotti wrote in the letter.
According to the Daily News story, however, the issue wouldn't disappear even if Woods' conviction is reduced.
The father of the manslaughter victim - 18-year-old Christopher O'Leary - said he believes that Woods was the instigator of the attacks that led to his son's death, the article said.
"I don't see how anyone could offer him a scholarship based on the severity of the offense," Michael O'Leary said. "I would be extremely shocked and extremely offended if he were able to work the justice system this way."
The victim of the assault for which Woods was convicted, Kevin Walker, added that he "would be outraged if Woods' record is dropped down," according to the Daily News.
Both O'Leary's parents and Walker will be allowed to speak at the hearing in February, the judge ruled Thursday.
Though Bellotti expressed regret for the death of O'Leary, he stressed that Woods wasn't implicated in that attack, and was worthy of a second chance at Oregon.
"We've had him up here on a visit, we've had him involved with our players, I've talked with his parents, and I feel comfortable that, were he able to get into school here, that given the track record he's had at Fresno College, he would be a quality member of not just this institution but the community, too," Bellotti said. "And I wouldn't have gone this far had I not felt that way."
Fresno City College coach Tony Caviglia - who also coached Maurice Morris at the junior college - echoed Bellotti's support of Woods, calling the cornerback "one of the best kids I've ever coached."
"I was kind of concerned when he came over here, but in talking to him and watching him for two and a half years now, he's been unbelievable," Caviglia said. "After about a month and a half, I realized there wasn't going to be a problem with this kid.
"I wouldn't put my reputation on the line and say that if I didn't believe that," Caviglia added, citing his long-standing relationships with Bellotti and Aliotti. "I'm not going to send a kid up there that's going to do anything to be a detriment to their program. I respect those guys too much."
Bellotti said Woods was offered "between 10 and 20 scholarships, including other Pac-10 schools that I know of for sure."
The letter Woods signed contained a condition that the player not have a felony condition on his record, per UO athletic department policy, he said.
Bellotti has taken on second-chance cases in the past, including Onterrio Smith, who was dismissed from Tennessee after using marijuana. Woods would not have been considered for a scholarship had he been charged and convicted in O'Leary's death, Bellotti said, and was accepted only based on recommendations from his high school and junior college coaches, as well as UO coordinators Aliotti and Andy Ludwig.
"I know that there have been other people that I have given those chances to that have been in a similar situation," Bellotti said. "And I know it happens frequently at a lot of other institutions."
"We always take into account the character of the person, the situation, the circumstances," Bellotti added later. "And then we make educated guesses.
"Do we make mistakes? Yes, but not very often."
Bellotti said Oregon's struggles last season, particularly at Woods' cornerback position, didn't affect the decision to offer him a letter of intent.
"Last year's season and the position he plays, doesn't really matter," the coach said. "We look at the opportunity to recruit the best athletes, and we always check into character concerns and considerations. Regardless of record, I believe we would recruit Rodney Woods.'
Woods still must qualify academically, Bellotti said, besides fulfilling the other conditions set forth in the letter of intent.
ADDED RECRUIT: Oregon received an oral commitment from Marcus Maxwell, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound receiver from Diablo Valley (Calif.) College, the Contra Costa Times newspaper reported Friday.
Maxwell had 40 receptions for 601 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore, and chose Oregon over San Diego State.
He originally committed to Nevada-Las Vegas out of high school in 2001 but enrolled at DVC because he was missing a credit for a chemistry class, according to the report.
"I just think this is a blessing and a second chance for me," Maxwell said. "I want all athletes to know that there's always a second chance."