Hamilton football coach Steve Belles has been accused by Coolidge High School of recruiting standout running back/defensive back J.T. Gray.
The issue is currently being handled at the district level, but if there is no resolution between the Coolidge and Chandler superintendents' respective investigations, the Arizona Interscholastic Association may have to employ a private investigator to settle the matter.
Gray is a 6-foot, 185-pound senior with scholarship offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, California, Ole Miss and several others. He carried the ball 60 times for 914 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and led the team with 112 tackles.
He was named the defensive skills MVP at the Rivals Camp Series at Hamilton on March 9, which is where the recruiting allegations stem.
Coolidge coach Cayle Ferguson said he watched from the stands as Belles was given a plaque from Rivals for hosting the event, followed soon after by Gray accepting his award. Ferguson said Gray talked to Belles following the announcements before he made his way over to Ferguson and Gray’s mother.
“J.T. came running up to us and said, ‘Man, Hamilton’s coach just tried to recruit me,’” Ferguson told the Tribune. “He didn’t know at the time who it was. He didn’t know it was the head coach. I knew who Belles was, and J.T. pointed him out at a distance.”
Both Gray and Belles did not immediately respond to voicemails seeking comment.
Chandler district athletic director Marcus Williams said the claim is being investigated.
“We are cooperating with the AIA and Coolidge representatives to assist them with their investigation,” Williams said in an email. “At this point in time, CUSD does not have any further information in regards to this situation.”
Ferguson said he didn’t consider the matter a big deal initially, adding that the school did send an email to Hamilton asking its personnel not to talk to Gray or his family. He said he went over to the Grays’ house that night to make sure the conversation with Belles would have no lingering effect.
“They assured me they weren’t leaving Coolidge,” Ferguson said.
Last Tuesday, though, Gray did not show up for a weight-lifting session, and, subsequently, withdrew from the school.
Despite a widespread laissez-faire attitude regarding transfers throughout much of Arizona, Ferguson said there was no hesitation in contacting the AIA regarding the alleged recruiting violation.
“There are rules in effect to stop things like this,” Ferguson said. “We’re not going to let this happen. You can’t do this. (Kids getting recruited) is so common up there (in the East Valley), but down here it’s not. Something’s got to be done to stop it.”
A recruiting violation could make Gray ineligible and ban Hamilton from the postseason. The Huskies are the defending Division I champions and are expected to be the preseason favorites again with or without Gray.
It's unknown how long it will take for a resolution, but Coolidge athletic director Patrick McBride said he believes both sides are cooperating.
“Hamilton started their internal investigation and communication is being handled at the superintendent level, so we can let them talk about this,” McBride said.