Ward is second to be cleared

Updated: September 17, 2004, 9:48 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- For the second time in less than a month, an Air Force Academy football player has been cleared of taking illegal steroids after insisting on the stand that he believed the drugs were simply supplements.

A jury cleared running back Matthew Ward, 21, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on Friday after a few hours of deliberation. Ward testified he had inadvertently used illegal steroids, and denied taking them to make him faster and stronger for football.

"I do not need to cheat in football. I know my role," Ward said Thursday. "I am small but I am very fast."

He could have faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted of possession and use of an illegal steroid.

Earlier this month, linebacker Overton Spence of Jacksonville, Fla., was acquitted of similar charges. Both players said they got the steroids from a teammate, who is no longer at the academy, and took them only to keep their weight up during academy survival training.

Coach Fisher DeBerry testified in support of both players, and Spence has already been allowed back on the team. The NCAA bans steroid use but said that since Spence had never tested positive on one of their tests they would defer to the academy on whether he could play.

In a statement, DeBerry said he was happy for Ward and his family.

"He'll be welcomed back to the football program pending administrative clearance by the academy," the coach said.

Spence testified on Ward's behalf, saying his teammate didn't know the steroid methandrostenolone was illegal until he was questioned by investigators.

Cadets Christopher Min, Jonathan Belkowitz and Eric M. Swartz also face steroid-related charges. They are awaiting court-martial or a decision on whether they will face court-martial.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press