Ruf/Nek admits intent to disrupt Huskers players

Updated: April 27, 2005, 7:57 PM ET
Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- A University of Oklahoma spirit squad member testified Wednesday that a Nebraska player cursed him and made a throat-slitting gesture at him prior to charging into another member of the group.

Matt Tinsley, who was standing next to fellow Ruf/Nek Adam Merritt when Merritt was slammed into a wall before the Nov. 13 football game between Oklahoma and Nebraska, said he had been among several other Ruf/Neks trying to disrupt the Cornhuskers by yelling "hut-hut-hut" during practice snap counts when lineman Darren DeLone confronted him and cursed at him.

Tinsley testified that he walked away and was pointing at DeLone later when the Nebraska player made a threatening gesture at him.

"DeLone saw me and then slid his thumb across his neck at me," Tinsley said.

DeLone, 23, is on trial on one felony charge of aggravated assault and battery. He has pleaded innocent to the charge, which carries a punishment of up to five years in prison upon conviction.

On cross-examination by defense attorney Garvin Isaacs, Tinsley acknowledged the Ruf/Neks were intentionally trying to interfere with the Nebraska players. He added there was trash talk going on and some members of the spirit squad had fired their ceremonial shotguns.

"Is there anywhere else in America where they take shotguns to a football game?" Isaacs asked. Tinsley replied, "No, sir."

Tinsley said he and Merritt were on the east sidelines when DeLone pointed at him and "not more than a minute later" charged into the group of Ruf/Neks, injuring Merritt. Tinsley testified that Nebraska's Wali Muhammad ran into him, but he wasn't thrown to the ground.

"I stumbled back a little bit," Tinsley said.

He testified that he did not actually see DeLone hit Merritt but believed that the Nebraska player was the only one that could have hit Merritt. Isaacs has argued that Muhammad accidentally hit Merritt, and DeLone did not.

In all, four Ruf/Neks and one cheerleader testified they had seen a player wearing No. 67 -- DeLone's number -- make contact with Merritt, although their stories had some inconsistencies. Ruf/Nek freshman Zachary Decker testified that DeLone hit Merritt's chin and then shoved him with both hands. Fellow Ruf/Nek Ryan Maxwell said DeLone pushed Merritt with his "arms extended. Cheerleader Zachary Marshall said DeLone made contact "with his shoulder pads and his arms."

The witnesses also differed on whether they thought Merritt's head hit a metal gate or the brick wall to which it was attached. Only Tinsley and Decker said they saw the throat-slashing gesture.

DeLone watched the exchange between attorneys and the witnesses. Isaacs frequently jotted notes. At one point during the afternoon, DeLone left the courtroom while feeling ill but returned soon after.

Lance Maxwell, another Ruf/Nek and the brother of Ryan Maxwell, said the purpose of the Ruf/Neks -- the group that accompanies the Sooner Schooner covered wagon onto the field -- was not to intimidate or disrupt opponents.

Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall, during a lunch recess, said the trash talk was irrelevant.

"I think anyone who has been to any kind of sporting event knows there is trash talking going on," Kuykendall said. "That doesn't justify anybody -- whether they are a team member, whether they are a spirit group or just a fan in the stands -- that doesn't justify anyone taking violent action and assaulting another person."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press