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Cottonwood benefactor built football program into success, only to be told to leave
Prep football » As grown-ups debate the booster’s deeds, former players have his back.

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A source familiar with the program who wished to avoid reprisal from those loyal to Cate said the transfers tended to have an upper hand.

"The underlying culture was that the kids who came from out of the boundaries were favored, like they were shiny and new," the source said. "Anybody who was in boundary was at a serious disadvantage."

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"My head was blown up" » Kaisa Kinikini is among those who privately questioned the lessons some players learned at Cottonwood.

Kinikini is Havili’s uncle and also the uncle of Simi Fili, another player who crossed boundaries to play for Cate.

Cottonwood’s reputation for providing tutors and other amenities appealed to Fili’s mother, Le’o Fili. She believed she’d found a school where her son could focus on academics, develop his athletic ability and stay free from gangs.

But Simi Fili seemed content to coast academically and assume his future in football would carry him, his uncle said.

"To me, he bought them out," Kinikini said of Cate. "They used our [Pacific Islander] kids to build a program, then they cared nothing about them."

As a Cottonwood defensive lineman in 2007, Fili was the state’s top prospect and committed to play at the University of Oregon. But academic missteps kept Fili from competing at Oregon. He attended four community colleges before landing a scholarship at East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., where he was gearing up for the 2011 football season before he again returned to Salt Lake City, where he said he is training for "The World’s Strongest Man" competition.

Fili said his mistakes were his own.

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"What happened is that I was just a naive high school football player. I was thinking that I was an All-American [and didn’t need to work on my grades]. My head was blown up," Fili said.

Fili said friends at other schools were jealous Cottonwood players had professional-looking highlight tapes to send to colleges thanks to Cate. Fili thinks critics simply are envious of Cate’s success.

Havili credits Cate with helping him achieve his NFL dreams.

"He’s like my second dad, and I know a lot of those other players feel the same way," Havili said. "A lot of first-generation Polynesians have parents who don’t understand the system. People like Scott Cate who get us scholarships and opportunities — that’s the reason our parents came to America."

"I might have gone quietly" » Cate believes he’s now a victim of his own lofty aspirations.

He knows some parents aren’t happy with how things turned out for their sons. Cate clashed with some who sent their sons to Cottonwood seeking scholarships and complained when they didn’t get playing time.

"There were several parents who claimed Scott was racist against white kids, which is interesting because Scott is white," said Vicki Johnson, a former booster club president. "My son is not a starter, and he got a lot out of the program."

The school district insists the new policy was not aimed at Cate. To him, that stand would be laughable if it weren’t so maddening.

"I was told I would have to go before they even voted to put the rule in place," he said. "If they had said, ‘Hey, let’s work this out. We’re going to give you a little respect,’ I might have gone quietly."

Instead, Cate expressed his frustration by taking back anything he could load in his truck: tackling dummies, footballs, computers, video equipment. He stored them but then heard about problems at East, the No. 1-ranked team, which this year forfeited games for fielding ineligible players. He donated his equipment to the Leopards out of sympathy.

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