Midvale • A rash of transfers, including seniors and multi-year starters, from the Kearns football program drew out emotional scars and torrent of accusations on Tuesday afternoon.
The departure of players maybe have been painful for the school and families involved, but it wasn’t caused by the coaching staffs of their eventual destinations — Bingham and Woods Cross — a UHSAA panel ruled in three separate cases.
When Joe Kaufusi and three brothers from the Finefeuiaki family — Leki, Sione and T.J. Pulu — went to Bingham this spring, Kearns coach Bill Cosper and his administration cried foul. Although the families had moved within Bingham boundaries, Kearns suggested the boys got a push from Bingham assistant coach Iloa Vakapuna, who works with their fathers at Delta and is practically — and in Kaufusi’s case, actually — a family member.
Testimony and evidence revealed a power struggle between Cosper and Saia Finefeuiaki, who became disgruntled after not getting a larger role in calling plays for Kearns. But the panel ruled unanimously that there wasn’t enough evidence showing Vakapuna played a role in enticing them to join the Miners.
The argument before the decision was rendered was a painful recitation of grievances. The shouting and tears led Leki Finefeuiaki to stand up near the end and nearly break down.
“I feel like everything seems like it’s bad blood between these people,” he said pointing to his parents and the Kearns coaches and administration. He then gestured to his brothers. “When really it should be about these people here. I want to move on with my life.”
The Finefeuaikis and Kaufusi will play for Bingham this fall, and similarly Marcus Teller will play at Woods Cross. The senior wideout’s family alleged the school hadn’t been able to allay safety concerns after his jaw was broken by an opposing player in a basketball game. Kearns accused receivers coach Braden Godfrey, Teller’s personal football coach, of coaxing him to come play for the Wildcats.
The panel judged that Godfrey hadn’t committed undue influence, owing to the fact that he had not yet joined the staff of Woods Cross when the Tellers had first considered a move to the school.
At the end of three hours of presenting the testimonies of seemingly a dozen witnesses but coming short, Cosper said he was disappointed with the UHSAA’s enforcement — or lack thereof.
“In my opinion, there was plenty of evidence,” Cosper said. “We’ll abide by the decision, and we’ll move on with the kids we have. But it just shows that if there’s a full family move, the UHSAA is going to approve it. That’s the loophole.”
Bingham coach Dave Peck took a different interpretation, saying the hearings had shown the transfers were internally motivated. Bingham’s success can be a powerful draw, Peck acknowledged, but he makes sure none of his coaches go out of their way to bring hopefuls in.
“To me, recruiting kids outside our boundaries is out of line,” Peck said. “I don’t think our coaches had anything to do with it in this case, but if someone did, he wouldn’t be with us for long.”
The UHSAA also approved two transfers Tuesday morning. Lineman Dallin Rodgers was granted eligibility for a transfer from American Fork to Lone Peak after his parents established they had not transferred immediately after a move because they had a tenuous living situation. The Cavemen, however, had their own victory when quarterback Jeremiah Evans was declared eligible after moving from Spanish Fork. His parents had moved to a different home in school boundaries than the one on their initial paperwork.
Football transfer cases (UHSAA panel vote)
• Joe Kaufusi, Kearns to Bingham (3-0, no undue influence)
• Leki Finefeuiaki, Sione Finefeuiaki and T.J. Pulu, Kearns to Bingham (3-0, no undue influence)
• Marcus Teller, Kearns to Woods Cross (3-0, no undue influence)
• Dallin Rodgers, American Fork to Lone Peak (2-1, move approved)
• Jeremiah Evans, Spanish Fork to American Fork (3-0, move approved)