High school football star Victor Abiamiri was planning to accept an athletic scholarship from Maryland had accusations not surfaced that Rod Sharpless, a Terrapins assistant coach, improperly provided him more than $300, say sources close to the player's family.
"What baffles me is that Maryland had Victor," one source said. "He wanted to play with his brothers. Now all of a sudden he can't."
Abiamiri, an all-American defensive end at the exclusive Gilman School in Baltimore, signed with Notre Dame on Wednesday.
After a member of the Gilman staff informed Maryland Coach Ralph Friedgen of the accusations against Sharpless, Maryland voluntarily ceased recruiting the 6-foot-6, 245-pound senior, who was rated among the best defensive linemen in the nation, and lost out on what would have been one of the highest-profile signings for the school in years.
"Victor never asked for the money," another source said. "[Sharpless] gave him the money but he didn't need to do it."
Sharpless, 53, has declined to comment, deferring questions to Friedgen and Athletic Director Debbie Yow. Why Sharpless, who has been a college assistant for more than 25 years, would violate the NCAA's most basic recruiting bylaw with a player seemingly bound for Maryland anyway remains unanswered.
Schools are banned from trying to attract athletes through the use of cash or gifts. A college athlete is supposed to accept a scholarship offer for no more than room, board and tuition.
Maryland was "way out in front" on Abiamiri, the sources said, because two of his brothers, Paschal and Rob, are reserve wide receivers for the Terrapins. An honors student, Victor also was impressed with the school's honors business program.
Sources say that Sharpless, a Maryland linebacker in the early 1970s, gave Abiamiri more than $300 several days before Christmas, to buy himself a video game machine and several games.
Sharpless heard Abiamiri tell his parents, Rita and Peter Abiamiri, that he wanted the video game machine as a Christmas gift. For a variety of reasons, his parents told him they didn't think it was a good idea, say two people close to the athlete.
Sharpless, who was eating breakfast with the family, is accused of taking Abiamiri aside later and handing him the money.
Victor's parents were angered when Sharpless went behind their backs, the source said. None of the Abiamiri family could be contacted yesterday. Gilman Coach Biff Poggi and Abiamiri's attorney, David B. Irwin, declined to comment for this story.
Maryland said Monday that upon hearing the accusations, it launched an investigation, ceased recruiting Abiamiri and accepted Sharpless's resignation. School officials then contacted Bond, Schoenick and King, an Overland Park, Kan., law firm that specializes in performing NCAA compliance work, such as conducting investigations for universities.
The law firm's investigators have begun conducting interviews.
Wide receiver Omarr Savage, who was recruited primarily by Sharpless and signed a national letter-of-intent to attend Maryland on Wednesday, said two people called his Piscataway, N.J., house Wednesday night.
"He just asked me if [Sharpless] offered me anything, I said no," Savage said. "He asked me about the whole recruiting process."
The phone conversation lasted approximately 15 minutes, Savage said, then one of the investigators drove to his house for a 10-minute meeting.
"He basically was just trying to find out if Coach Sharpless offered me anything," Savage said.
Meantime, Maryland has begun looking for a new assistant coach. The school posted on its Web site Tuesday a "position vacancy" for a candidate with three to five years college or professional coaching experience.
Applicants must have "knowledge of NCAA rules and regulations to recruit off-campus," said Maryland's help-wanted posting. "Proven integrity, leadership, and a thorough knowledge of collegiate football is required."