Blake says it was a D-lineman who hit Ruf/Neks

Originally Published: April 28, 2005
Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- Nebraska defensive line coach John Blake testified Thursday that one of his defensive linemen at Nebraska plowed into an Oklahoma spirit squad member and not a Cornhuskers offensive lineman on trial for felony assault.

Blake, who was the head coach of the Sooners from 1996 to 1998, testified that defensive end Wali Muhammad accidentally slammed into Adam Merritt, 19, during drills before the Cornhuskers' game at Oklahoma on Nov. 13, 2004.

Former Nebraska offensive lineman Darren DeLone is on trial on one felony charge of aggravated assault and battery. He has pleaded innocent. The charge carries a possible punishment of up to five years in prison.

Blake was on the field coaching at the time of the collision and said he witnessed Muhammad and DeLone participating in a full-speed drill just before the game when DeLone shoved Muhammad toward a group of spectators.

"He was shoving Wali, and as Wali went flying, that's when I saw the spectators," Blake said.

Blake said DeLone outsized Muhammad by about 60 pounds and commonly was able to push him around.

"I knew Darren was going to throw Wali because he always manhandled Wali," Blake said.

Blake left the witness stand to demonstrate with DeLone how the drill worked and told jurors that it was DeLone's responsibility to shove Muhammad out of the way if he got outside of him. Blake said doing this would open a gap for a running back.

As Muhammad headed toward the sideline, Blake said he saw most of the group move out of his way, but Merritt did not.

"I guess the guys in front had moved out of the way in a hurry," he said.

Merritt and a dentist who examined him have testified that the Oklahoma freshman lost one of his front teeth and fractured another in the collision.

Prosecution witnesses, including several Ruf/Neks, a band member and a cheerleader, have testified that DeLone slammed into Merritt. Defense attorney Garvin Isaacs has claimed that Muhammad accidentally collided with Merritt and DeLone did not.

On cross-examination, Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall challenged Blake about comments he made during an interview with Isaacs in which Blake said the Ruf/Nek "got bumped by DeLone and, uh, Wali."

Blake said he hesitated because he couldn't at first remember Muhammad's name, but he intended to say that both players were involved in the drill which led to the contact with Merritt.

Blake, who also played for Oklahoma from 1979-82, graduated from the school in 1986 and returned as an assistant coach from 1989-92, said the stadium had been remodeled since he left OU and he thought spectators were closer to the practice area than he had remembered. Kuykendall asked if he thought about moving the team farther from the spectators.

"I think it's a problem them being that close to us, not us being that close to them," Blake responded.

Blake, testifying for the defense, also out also spoke about DeLone's personality.

"Darren was a guy who never got in a brawl on the football field, never got into a fight. ... I don't remember Darren being in any altercations at all," Blake said.

After Blake was called as an early defense witness because he wouldn't be able to testify later, Kuykendall continued with his witnesses.

On cross-examination, Isaacs challenged Ruf/Nek Zachary Decker's testimony about DeLone's positioning during the drill -- claiming it was inconsistent with what some others had testified.

Kuykendall said he expected that challenge and expected to do the same when Isaacs started calling his witnesses.

"The jurors in this trial are going to hear a lot of inconsistencies, things that don't add up, two witnesses testifying to two different things," Kuykendall said. "I think a lot of that is just human nature. People look at the same occurrence and come away with different impressions, having seen different things. That's a lot of what we have here."

Isaacs also questioned University of Oklahoma Detective John Bishop about whether police investigating the incident jumped to an early conclusion that DeLone had committed a crime and ignored evidence to the contrary.

Isaacs played an audiotape of Officer Mike Robinson calling Merritt an "assault victim" and saying a football player had "sucker-punched" the Ruf/Nek less than two hours after the incident had occurred.

Bishop testified that investigators had considered all possible evidence and passed it along for Kuykendall to decide whether to pursue charges.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press