Clint Hartman was used to college coaches visiting last spring at Clear Springs High School in this burgeoning suburb southeast of Houston.
They wanted to see his star player, outside linebacker Trevon Randle, a versatile, 6-foot-1, 205-pounder who had been timed at 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
But when Oregon running backs coach Gary Campbell, a Texas native, visited, he did so with another man who Hartman at first thought was a fellow Ducks assistant coach.
At the end of the visit, the man congratulated Hartman for his success at Clear Springs High, which opened three years ago, and told him that he didn’t like rival Clear Creek High School.
“You’re doing a hell of a job,” Hartman recalled the man telling him. “I’ve been in this area for a while.”
The man’s comments puzzled Hartman, who didn’t understand how Oregon could have an assistant coach who lived locally. Uneasy about the visit, he and one of his assistants logged on to Google and typed in two words:
Hartman knew Lyles, a Houston resident, only by name and Lyles’ reputation as a “street agent,” a third party who steers recruit to certain colleges. Hartman had heard that Lyles had been instrumental in Oregon’s signing of Temple, Texas, star tailback Lache Seastrunk just a couple of months earlier.
When Hartman clicked on one of the Google search results, a photo appeared of the man who had just been in his office with Campbell. It had been Lyles.
A week later, Hartman crossed paths with Lyles again. This time he was with LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley, who had come to see Randle. When Lyles tried to walk onto the field, Hartman told him to return to the parking lot.
Hartman later called Haley and told him that Lyles was never to return to Clear Springs High.
“I didn’t know the guy, Coach,” Hartman recalled Haley saying of Lyles. “He showed up and said he was helping the last guy here for LSU.”
Hartman knew that wasn’t true. After all, LSU had never previously recruited at Clear Springs High.
But what Hartman didn’t know then was that Randle and his father, Raymond Edwards, already had a relationship with Lyles. Last month, Randle signed with LSU.
Hartman said he warned the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association about Lyles after talking to numerous college football coaches.
“I said, ‘If this guy’s around your kids, you need to get his (expletive) away,’” Hartman told FOXSports.com in January. “I don’t like no part of that guy. He’s a notorious street agent.”
NCAA investigators have been busy in the Houston area. On Wednesday and Thursday, two investigators interviewed Hartman, Randle and Randle’s father about Lyles, according to a source familiar with the matter.
They also interviewed Andy Dekaney High School running back Trey Williams and his coach, Willie Amendola, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lyles accompanied Campbell when he visited Amendola about Williams during the 2009 season. Like Seastrunk was, Williams is one of the nation’s top running backs, but so far the Class of 2012 recruit has not made his college choice.
Both Hartman and Amendola declined comment this week. NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone Saturday.
But Hartman was vocal in January about his disdain for Lyles. He said he had told his assistant coaches to call the police if they ever see Lyles on campus again.
“We (expletive) hate him,” Hartman said.
‘WE WEREN’T DOING ANYTHING WRONG’
Last week, Oregon released an invoice for which it paid $25,000 to Lyles in March 2010 for a “2011 National Package" from his business, Complete Scouting Services. He submitted the invoice on Feb. 22, 2010, less than three weeks after Seastrunk, one of last year’s top high school running backs, signed with Oregon in a surprising decision.
Oregon maintains it has committed no wrongdoing, and that the purchase of scouting services from Lyles is allowed under NCAA rules. Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said the Ducks are cooperating with the NCAA’s request for documents related to their purchases of services from scouting agencies.
Campbell said he did visit high schools with Lyles, but doesn’t recall how often.
“I’m a little bit puzzled about this whole thing with Will,” Campbell said. “Will runs a legitimate scouting service. We have a lot of scouting services. He’s just one of them. I just don’t understand what the big deal about this scouting service and paying Will is all about.”
“I don’t think Will did anything wrong. I mean, I know he didn’t do anything wrong with us because he knew that we weren’t going to do anything outside of the rules. I don’t know what he did with other people, but he never did anything with us. He never helped us. He just gave us information.”
Campbell said Lyles directed Oregon to several players, but never said he would help the Ducks get a player.
“We weren’t doing anything wrong,” Campbell said of Oregon using Lyles’ scouting service. “It wasn’t a secret. It wasn’t hidden or anything. We came right out and showed everybody we paid him and we’re going to pay him this year because he helped us last year.”
Lyles became involved with Seastrunk the summer before his junior year and at times stayed with him and his mother at their house, according to Seastrunk’s coach at Temple High School, Bryce Monsen.
The NCAA is looking into Lyles’ relationships with Seastrunk and Ducks star tailback LaMichael James, who also is from Texas, according to an ESPN.com report last week.
If Lyles assisted in or were involved in the recruitment of players to Oregon, the NCAA would consider him a booster, and any payment to him would be considered a violation of Bylaw 13, which prohibits boosters from directing a recruit to a school.
Efforts to reach Lyles as of Saturday were unsuccessful. A man at Lyles’ Houston home on Friday said he did not know Lyles but agreed to give him a message.
A man at Lyles’ parents’ house in Missouri City, Texas, who identified himself as Lyles’ brother said Lyles has not done anything improper.
“It just looks real wrong,” the man said. “I know the whole story. I’ve been there since Day One. It just seems bad. It is what it is right now.”
Oregon coach Chip Kelly did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone Saturday, but Seastrunk, James and Ducks starting quarterback Darron Thomas all spoke openly to FOXSports.com about Lyles and his influence in January during media day for the BCS title game.
Thomas, a graduate of Aldine High School in Houston, called Lyles “Will the recruiter” but said Lyles wasn’t involved in his decision to attend Oregon. Thomas said he learned that Lyles is from Texas after seeing him at a couple of Oregon games. “He’s one of the guys that’s got a lot of us Texas guys out here,” Thomas said.
“He brings a lot of Texas to this team — a guy that Coach Kelly and them out there now recruiting in Texas a lot. Like I said, he’s a big recruiting guy just leading guys.”
Thomas said Lyles and James are “good friends.” James, who starred at Liberty-Eylau High School in Texarkana, Texas, said he knows Lyles and described him as “a good guy.
“He was the one who got me a scholarship to Oregon. I think he’s the one who sent the coaches my film.”
James said he knows Lyles only “on a professional level,” but said he still talked to him.
“He’s very influential to me and I know to Lache and just different players,” James said. “I mean he really is a great guy.”
Asked what Lyles’ job was, James said he was unsure.
“I really don’t know exactly his role or what you would call his job,” James said. “I just know he gets kids scholarships.”
Like Hartman, Amendola didn’t know who Lyles was when he visited Dekaney High with Campbell in 2009. But when a reporter informed him about Lyles and his involvement with Williams late last season, Amendola also did internet research and recognized Lyles as the man with Campbell.
Amendola said he then talked to Williams, who admitted he knew Lyles. Williams had “a strange relationship” with Lyles, Amendola said.
“He wasn’t quite sure who Mr. Will was and what his angle was,” Amendola told FOXSports.com last month. “I guess he kind of plays himself off as being a trainer of some kind. I don’t know how far that went.”
Amendola said he told Williams that Lyles was believed to be a street agent, but Williams assured Amendola that Lyles wasn’t involved with him in that capacity.
“I told him this guy’s not what you need,” Amendola said. “Other people have reiterated that to him so I think he’s kind of separated himself.”
‘THE INFO GUY’
When Randle and his father first met Lyles at the U.S. Army All-American Combine in San Antonio in January 2010, Lyles was one of the event’s biggest power brokers. His prize pupil, Seastrunk, was one of the most touted players participating in the 2010 U.S. Army All-American Bowl and Seastrunk’s undecided college future was a major storyline.
Randle said meeting Lyles was helpful because he and his father were initially overwhelmed and uninformed about the recruiting process.
“He kept giving us info about different schools,” Randle told FOXSports.com in January. “Made sure people wasn’t leaving. Types of coaches they had. Some of those coaches didn’t come down here. He would maybe call and talk to them because he knows a lot of coaches. … He was just the info guy.”
Later in the interview, Randle said, “He was looking after me.”
Randle said Lyles talked to him a lot about California and Miami. He said Lyles didn’t have to talk to him much about Oregon, because “I told him about Oregon.” But Randle said Lyles knew Ducks coach Chip Kelly well.
Just over a month after meeting Lyles, Randle committed to LSU at a Tigers junior day. Randle said he consulted with his parents before choosing LSU, but said his father is “pretty tight” with Lyles.
Randle’s father did not immediately return a message left on his cell phone Saturday.
Instead of LSU’s junior day, Randle had been scheduled to attend Oklahoma’s junior day, but he changed his plans the day before, Hartman said.
“This whole time he had led up saying he wanted to play at Oklahoma,” Hartman said.
Having committed to LSU, Randle said he later spent time with Lyles while attending LSU summer camps. He said Lyles was particularly close with Haley, who recruited him for the Tigers.
Efforts to reach Haley on Saturday were unsuccessful.
“Now, that’s a funny guy right there,” Randle said of Lyles. “That guy right there, he can eat. He knows about every restaurant in Baton Rouge and he introduced me to all of them. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t know anything about the food places down there.”
Randle said Lyles never told him to choose a specific school. Yet he said Lyles told him that going to LSU was a good decision for him.
“He said it fit me well because the environment and the defense they run and the type of player I am,” Randle said.
Randle’s version of his relationship with Lyles, however, is far different than what Hartman said Randle told him. When Hartman asked Randle about Lyles, he said Randle told him that he didn’t know Lyles or talk to him.
“I think Trovon’s the one getting (expletive) in the whole deal,” Hartman said.
Memphis coach Larry Porter knows Lyles from his time as assistant head coach at LSU. After Memphis hired Porter away from LSU in November 2009, Seastrunk started considering Memphis as a college choice.
In an interview in July, Porter described Lyles as “a genuine guy with me so I have nothing negative to say about him.”
But Porter said he was unsure whether Lyles is a positive influence in college football.
“I don’t know the conversations he’s having with these kids when we’re not around,” Porter said. “We’re not around him much. Who knows where the influences are coming at the end of the day?”
“I think the kids listen to him. I do. Some kids he’s probably closer to than others. Some kids know that he goes around to a lot of different universities so some of them like to jump in the car with him. What goes on and what’s being said, again, I have no clue.”