MTSU coach dismisses 3 charged in taped incident

August 1, 2013

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill has dismissed three players facing charges in connection with an incident caught on videotape showing one choking a woman while two teammates watched and narrated.

The coach said in a statement Wednesday he wanted to take his time in making the decision to dismiss the three players. The dismissal came hours after he spoke at the Blue Raiders' media day saying he would wait until school officials and police finished their investigation, even though he had seen the video and felt he had enough information to make a decision.

"I wanted to make sure I gathered as much information as possible," Stockstill said in a statement late Wednesday afternoon.

"Their actions do not reflect upon all the good surrounding our football program. Every choice a person makes has consequences, good or bad. And unfortunately, their choice has led me to dismiss them from the team."

A spokesman for the campus police department did not immediately return an email message from The Associated Press.

Middle Tennessee suspended defensive tackle J.D. Jones on July 20 hours after he was charged with two counts of domestic aggravated assault July. Defensive tackle Marcus Robinson and cornerback Rodney O'Neal were charged with two counts of aiding and abetting and also were suspended that night. All three are due in court Aug. 29, the day the Blue Raiders open the season against Western Carolina.

The videotape show Ronni Cantrell, 19, of Knoxville pleading with Jones to stop choking her first with his hand, then his arm from behind, according to a report by university police. The incident allegedly took place in November, but Cantrell did not speak to campus police until July 19. Campus police have a copy of the videotape, and the report said suspects are heard not helping the woman and saying the choking "happens all the time or every day."

Cantrell also alleged that the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Jones beat her on the legs with a baseball-type bat when she refused to give him money to buy marijuana, according to the police report.

Stockstill said having players facing criminal charges situation is embarrassing and frustrating after hours spent trying to educate his team. All three are redshirt sophomores, but only Jones was expected to see playing time this season. Stockstill had to handle the suspension of quarterback Dwight Dasher for the first four games in 2010 for accepting a loan in violation of the NCAA's rules on amateurism. Middle Tennessee went 6-6 and lost the Bowl.

"This isn't going to have any effect on this team I can promise you that," Stockstill said. "One, I think because none of those guys are the quarterback. ... This team I think is a lot more mature. It's been through a lot. I'm not going to let it be an issue."

The arrests and suspensions mar what's been a historical few months for Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders officially joined Conference USA on July 1 and have had a variety of celebrations and promotions on changing leagues from the Sun Belt Conference. Middle Tennessee is coming off a season in which the Blue Raiders went 8-4 and just missed out on a bowl berth despite finishing tied for second in the Sun Belt.

Stockstill has nine starters back on offense, including senior quarterback Logan Kilgore who threw for 2,571 yards with 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions last season. Running back Benny Cunningham currently is in camp with the St. Louis Rams in the NFL, but they also have a handful of running backs returning including Jordan Parker, who led the team with 851 yards rushing.

The defense has seven starters back, and four players speaking Wednesday don't see this investigation and suspension causing any distractions.

"We're going to have to find someone to replace them, which I know we will and I think it'll be just fine," defensive lineman Jimmy Staten said before the players were dismissed.