For all of the uncertainty surrounding Marcell Dareus' trip to South Beach in May, it seems we actually have a fairly good bead on how his trip itself was arranged. He left Tuscaloosa sometime around May 15th and flew to Miami, with the flight allegedly being paid for by his friend Marvin Austin, the rising senior defensive lineman from North Carolina. Upon arriving, Dareus claims that not only did he repay Austin for the flight, but that he procured a receipt as well, a claim that if true should dismiss any extra benefit concerns arising from the transportation involved in the trip.
If you accept that explanation, the next question then becomes where did he stay while he was in Miami. If he stayed with Austin and company at the high-end South Beach hotels where the suites start at $500 a night, well, clearly we've got some problems. Fortunately, Dareus denies that was the case. Regarding housing, Dareus alleged that Austin had a hotel room arranged for him, but that he declined the offer. Hopefully that is true, of course, but even if so it still leaves an unresolved question surrounding where he stayed while he was in South Beach.
Regarding that, the football blog College Football Zealots wrote the following in an article published today:
All I would add that the article leaves out is that Dareus did NOT use the hotel room because he has family ties to the area (his biological father was a Haitian immigrant) and opted to stay with a family friend.
Now, I cannot speak to the credibility of that site. Clearly the piece is well written and thoughtfully constructed , but in terms of the objective value of the claims and the sources that they cite I have no idea if they are legitimate or not. Perhaps so, perhaps not.
Nevertheless, it does bring up an interesting issue that has largely been overlooked. Dareus signed with Alabama in February of 2008 out of Birmingham, by way of Huffman High School, but in many ways he is not exactly your typical born-and-raised Alabama product. In fact, if you look into Dareus' background, his family situation is a bit complicated.
In many places, Dareus does not even list Alabama as his native state, instead listing Tampa, Florida as his home town and state. We've heard quite a bit out Dareus' recently deceased mother, but she spent many years in poor health, and was in fact not Dareus' legal guardian at the time of her passing.
Dareus' legal guardian was (and is) a Birmingham man by the name of Lester Reasor, a retired director of Huffman High's Junior ROTC program. He took Dareus under his wing towards the end of his high school career, and became the legal guardian of Dareus as well as several of his younger siblings. In fact, the place Dareus called home before his mother's passing was actually with Reasor and his wife in their house in Fairfield. He moved in with the Reasors a couple of years back, after agreeing that he would attend the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church with every Sunday (and to that end, the Reasors drove to Tuscaloosa every Sunday to pick up Dareus to drive him to church, as Dareus didn't own a car at the time).
And speaking of Reasor, he takes his role of guardian quite seriously, and oddly enough in hindsight he spoke out to Don Kausler Jr. of the Birmingham News regarding agents and NCAA rules this past April:
"I'm just sort of a guy who's trying to keep Marcell focused on, 'Hey, don't take anything from anybody, buddy (in violation of NCAA rules). I don't care if it's $50, 'cause you're going to be worth $20 million (in the NFL) soon.' "
"I just want everybody to be mindful and respectful and not try to slip something in the back door. There are some that are still trying. . . . That's against NCAA rules.
"The NCAA and the presidents of these schools don't understand. You've got kids that have nothing. They don't have a house, they don't have food in the refrigerator, and a guy comes and drops four or five thousand dollars in front of them and says, 'Go feed your family.' What are they supposed to do?"
Moving back to the original point, though, it should be noted that Dareus' father was indeed a Haitian immigrant. He died when Marcell was a small child -- his mother later remarried -- but the point remains that Dareus' father was originally from Haiti and (though I cannot find the specific source on this that I am looking for at the moment) I believe he initially immigrated to the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, Florida, along with some of his other family members.
Now, again, I cannot speak to the credibility of that report by College Football Zealots, but at the least it is very feasible. To the best of my knowledge most of his father's side of the family hails from the south Florida area, so it should come as no real surprise that Dareus would have family members in the area that he could have stayed with. He wasn't just some random country boy from Alabama going down to the bright lights of the big city without knowing anyone for hundreds of miles, he likely had a lot of friends and family in the area.
Perhaps that is not what happened, of course, but it certainly could have, and if we assume that Dareus indeed did stay with a friend and / or a family member, then we could potentially have valid explanations for both the travel and lodging arrangements of his trip. Clearly there could potentially be more extra benefit issues in play than just transportation and lodging, but those are likely the two biggest pitfalls in this entire eligibility maze, and if those two issues are safely dismissed as harmless then we are probably much closer to a final resolution that ends well for both Marcell Dareus and Alabama.
Hope for the best.