One of the more controversial, polarizing — and, some say, mischaracterized — football players in the nation has joined the Central State Marauders and is vying for the stating quarterback job.
How the venture ultimately plays out will make the story of Trent Mays one of second chances or second guesses.
Five years ago, Mays — a budding 16-year-old star football player and wrestler and an honor student at Steubenville High School, the son and grandson of coaches and the younger brother of two sisters — was charged along with teammate Ma’lik Richmond of repeatedly sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl who was incapacitated by alcohol. The pair also documented the assault in text, photo and video on various forms of social media.
The incident, actually a six-hour ordeal until the girl awoke in a basement missing clothes, phone and earrings, but alongside Mays, Richmond and another boy, made national headlines for months because of the glorified culture of football in Steubenville — the town of 18,000 fills its 10,000-seat stadium and the Big Red, as the team is known, has won nine state titles — and the way the town divided over the assault and arrests that followed.
In March 2013, Mays, who like Richmond was tried as a juvenile, was adjudicated “delinquent beyond reasonable doubt,” the juvenile equivalent of a guilty verdict.
For raping the unconscious girl using his fingers and disseminating pornographic photos of her, he was sentenced to two years at the Paint Creek Light House Youth Center
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine empaneled a special grand jury, specifically to see if coaches and other school personnel failed to report the incident even though they are required to do so by Ohio law.
As a result, the superintendent of schools (who resigned), an elementary school principal, two coaches and the school’s IT director all faced multiple charges ranging from obstruction of justice and tampering with evidence to perjury.
When Mays was released in January 2015, he returned to another area high school but was not permitted to join its wrestling team. He did graduate with honors.
That fall he ended up at Hocking College, a struggling junior college in Nelsonville that had just started a football program as a way to invigorate the school and raise enrollment.
Hocking remains the only junior college in Ohio to have a football program and Mays was the starting quarterback for two seasons.
And sure enough the school got attention, though not always the kind it wanted.
“I got death threats and hate mail,” coach Adolphus Matthews said. “We took a lot of crap from newspapers around the country. Papers from Salem, Oregon to St. Petersburg, Fla. just killed us.”
There was some initial campus protest and complaint and a few football opponents took issue, as well.
“There were some teams we played last year — like, I believe, Nassau and Erie (both New York schools) — where a guy or two afterward said stuff like ‘I’m not gonna shake your hand. You’re a rapist.’ Another guy stomped around and said, ‘I’m gonna find him and whoop him.’
“Trent just shrugged his shoulders and kept walking.”
As for the Harley-riding coach, he said he was unfazed by the threats.
“Look, I’m probably the only gun-packing coach you’re gonna find,” Matthews laughed. “But then I’m the police chief here, too.
“I just completed my 32nd year as a cop. Before this I was a police officer outside of Sandusky. I’ve been on drug task forces, worked undercover and I was a SWAT team commander. I wasn’t intimidated.
“I used to ride with guys I put in prison. But I never thought I was bigger or better than anybody else. And when those guys got out, I was one of the first to say, ‘Hey, give ‘em a shot.’ I’d try to help them get a job. Everybody deserves a second chance.
“Now I didn’t know Trent from Adam. He hadn’t played football since he was a freshman in high school. They arrested him the first day of two-a-days as a sophomore.
“But I liked what I saw on our field and I told him, ‘If you come in here and do your school work and do everything you’re supposed to do, you’ll be fine. But if you’re gonna be an ass——, I’ll be the first person to pack your crap up and throw you off my campus.’ ”
To prepare everyone, Hocking College president Betty Young wrote this in a campus-wide email:
“Second chances do not excuse or defend previous behavior. There are a lot of second-chance stories at every community college. Trenton’s story is just one. His path will be challenging, but many of our students face challenges and they overcome them to reach success. It is up to him to determine what to do with this opportunity.”
Classified as a Tier II (medium) sex offender, Mays must register once a year for a decade. He was not permitted to live on the Hocking College campus.
“We didn’t have any issues with Trent,” Matthews said. “He was very professional. The kids respected him and he became our team captain. I trusted him.”
He said some of the detractors on campus even embraced Mays after a while.
“Central State is going to love the kid,” Matthews said.
As for what the Marauders’ brass is thinking, they’re not saying — at least publicly.
Through a university spokesman, both athletics director Jahan Culbreath and coach Cedric Pearl declined repeated requests for an interview on Mays becoming a Marauder.
Media kept at bay
Asked about the portrayal of his son by many since the incident, Bryan Mays declined to answer that question during a nearly 30-minute conversation the other evening:
“I don’t want to get into that. Whatever I say, the answer will come out wrong. But if you’re around him enough, you’ll see what he’s like.”
Maybe so, but Central State refused to make him available for an interview for this column.
As a result, you’re left to wonder if Trent Mays truly is the person his dad and his former coach see him to be or is he defined by the despicable actions on that August night in 2012 when a girl from just across the Ohio River in Weirton West Virginia — herself an honors student and an athlete — was assaulted and continually debased by football players who knew she had too much to drink?
While many share the blame, the most punishment was meted out to Mays. Richmond got one year and others weren’t charged.
After Mays’ release from the juvenile facility, the girl’s family told the Associated Press they hoped he and Richmond “maintain higher standards of morals and values as their rehabilitations continue.”
During his two seasons at Hocking, Mays often sat and talked with him, Matthews said.
“He was like, ‘I served my time. People don’t understand that.’ And I was like, ‘No, they don’t.’
“He was (a teenager) when it happened and I know that that doesn’t make it OK — he stuck his fingers where they should not have been — but I saw another side of him.
“And when my wife came to visit, he was not what she expected. She said, ‘This kid has come a long way.’ She liked him.
“She said, ‘The papers got it all wrong…I think.’ ”
Enrolled in January
Other schools — including the University of Dayton and Wright State — have dealt with and played athletes accused of sexual assaults.
UD basketball player Matt Kavanaugh was suspended from school for a year after police said he was a suspect in an assault of a 17-year-old female student. Flyers player Dyshawn Pierre was suspended from school for a semester after he was accused of sexually assaulting a female athlete at the school. The Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office declined to press charges in each case citing insufficient evidence.
Marvin Rodgers played basketball at Wright State after he was expelled from West Virginia University when he pleaded guilty to molesting a female student there. He was given five years’ probation.
Three years ago three Oregon basketball players were charged with sexually assaulting a female student at a party. For one of them, Brandon Austin, it was his second assault charge. He had left Providence for the same reason. Yet, each of the three Oregon players ended up transferring and playing elsewhere.
Two Vanderbilt football players were charged with aggravated rape two years ago, with one transferring to Lane College and the other to Alcorn State.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Zach Mettenberger was kicked off the University of Georgia team after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor sexual battery charges. He played at two more colleges before joining the NFL.
Two years ago the SEC and the Big 12 initiated policies of not accepting athletes with histories of domestic or sexual violence. While it could be a moral stance, it might be for liability issues, as well.
Georgia and Arizona State both paid out high six-figure settlements after one of their athletes committed a sexual assault and proved to be a repeat offender.
Matthews said much of the furor died down at Hocking once Mays started going to classes and playing football. He said it was about people getting to know him.
In that inaugural Hocking season, Mays — a solidly-built freshman with a hard-nosed running style — averaged 202.9 yards of offense per game (including 76.2 rushing). Last season he averaged 262.6 yards (219 passing) and had 16 touchdowns. Matthews said “some schools in Alabama, Texas and New Mexico were really high on him, but I knew he didn’t want to go that far from home.”
Mays’ dad said someone familiar with the CSU program made the initial connection for them:
“Trent wanted to transfer out (of Hocking) in midyear so he could go into spring ball with a team. My father is about 75 and he and Trent have a special connection. He wanted Trent to stay close so he could see him.”
The Hocking president sent a letter of recommendation to CSU and then came a visit.
“We went over on Christmas break and Coach Pearl was really honest with him,” Bryan Mays said. “The assistant athletics director was there and so was the strength coach and after listening to them, it’s where we ended up.”
Mays enrolled at CSU in January and he’s now battling returning starter Lavon Meeks and senior Mikiel Clemons for the starting job. In the second quarter of last Saturday’s spring game, Mays threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Martell Clark.
“They’ll see what we did,” Matthews said. “He didn’t say a lot, but he commanded respect with his play. He’s one of those guys whose actions speak louder than his words.”
In the past, depending on those actions, that has gotten him a lot of cheers and a lot of trouble.
How it plays out now will make this a story of second chances or second guesses.