Ducks QB Thomas not scathed by incidents

Ducks QB Thomas not scathed by incidents

Credit: AP

Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas (1) throws to a receiver during an NCAA college football game against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on August 18, 2011 at 8:20 AM

Oregon coach Chip Kelly was emphatic: Quarterback Darron Thomas was not going to be disciplined simply because he was a passenger in a car driven by a teammate that was clocked at 118 mph.

And, while concerned about an officer's suspicion that there was marijuana in the car, Kelly was standing by Thomas and cornerback Cliff Harris, who was driving.

But the whole thing was another black eye for Oregon and another in a string of incidents involving Thomas, who has so far come out unscathed.

The traffic stop occurred early on June 12, when Harris was pulled over by the Oregon State Police in a rented Nissan Altima near Albany, Ore. At the time, Thomas was not identified as a passenger in the car.

Harris was cited for speeding and driving on a suspended license. The Altima was rented by a university employee.

Kelly soon afterward suspended Harris indefinitely. The junior cornerback will miss Oregon's opener against LSU at Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 3. After that, his status will be dependent on his adherence to team rules.

Harris has been allowed to practice with the team and his family paid the $1,620 in fines for the citation. The university compliance office was looking into whether NCAA rules were broken when the school employee allowed Harris to use the rental car.

Except for Harris' ongoing suspension, it appeared to be over. But then the video from the stop was obtained by KATU television and released on Tuesday.

The video not only revealed that Thomas was a passenger, it also shows that the trooper involved in the stop was curious about the smell of marijuana he said was coming from the car.

The officer asks: "Who's got the marijuana?" And a voice from inside the car, presumably Harris', replies: "We smoked it all."

In a later exchange with the officer it was claimed that someone else in the car -- not Harris or Thomas -- had used marijuana.

No one beside Harris was cited in the traffic stop.

Before he allows the players to leave, the trooper gives the players a bit of advice.

"You guys are a pretty important part of the program down there. You want to stay alive and be able to help your teammates out, stay in school and finish school and get on with your life, huh? Driving 118 miles an hour is not the best way to do that," he said.

Thomas has been in the wrong place before.

Last summer he was a passenger when then-quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was stopped for a traffic infraction and marijuana was found in the car. Masoli, who had earlier pleaded guilty in connection to an unrelated burglary incident, was later dismissed from the team by Kelly.

Thomas was also a passenger in 2008 when linebacker Eddie Pleasant crashed while street racing in Springfield.

He was not cited in either of those incidents.

After the police video came to light on Tuesday, Kelly defended his quarterback: "I'm not punishing someone for being a passenger."

"Darron Thomas is the leader of this football team," Kelly also said. "I have absolutely no question about it. Describe his leadership? He's as good as I've been around."

Thomas and Harris were not made available for comment on Tuesday. The Ducks closed practice at Autzen Stadium on Wednesday, something that had already been planned.

As a first-year starter last season, Thomas threw for 2,881 yards and 30 touchdowns and ran for five more scores. He directed the speedy spread-option that helped Oregon reach the BCS championship game and finish 12-1.

Thomas' lone loss as a starter came in the title game against Auburn.

Kelly said he believed his players' claims that the marijuana was not theirs, but admitted that its presence in the car was disquieting.

"It always concerns me whenever there's anything like that around our players," he said.

Oregon has been scrutinized this offseason after questions were raised about a $25,000 payment the Ducks made to Willie Lyles of Houston-based Complete Scouting Services for what appeared to be outdated information about prep football prospects.

The payment came after the Ducks got a letter of intent from running back Lache Seastrunk, who had a mentoring relationship with Lyles.

The NCAA is looking into whether Oregon broke any rules regarding Lyles and Seastrunk.

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