On the day that USC's 16 freshmen football recruits reported to campus for fall practice, Gary Wellman was being blamed for the events that caused him to be excluded.
Wellman, an All-Southern Section running back from Westlake High who signed a letter of intent with USC, probably cost himself a year of college athletic eligibility when he dropped a science class last spring at Westlake.
On Friday, USC Coach Ted Tollner issued a statement through the school's sports information office saying that his staff had told Wellman to enroll in the yearlong physiology class and was aware that he was taking it last fall.
"But we don't check every two weeks to make sure he's still in the class," Tollner's statement said. "Therefore, we weren't aware that he had dropped the class."
Because he dropped the class, Wellman failed to meet the NCAA's new academic requirements for incoming freshmen, which require a core curriculum of high school courses that includes two years in a natural or physical science. Wellman completed only 1 1/2 years in such courses.
George Contreras, the Westlake football coach, said Tuesday that Westlake counselor Howard Brody told Wellman that he could drop the physiology course because he had already met USC's admissions requirements in science.
Brody said Wednesday that he was not aware of the NCAA standards until he read about them in The Times that morning.
But Westlake Principal Bill Albers said Friday that Westlake has on file an NCAA student/athlete information form for Wellman that lists the NCAA requirements.
The form was filled out and signed by Brody on Nov. 1, 1985, Albers said.
Asked about it on Friday, Brody said: "I do remember a form being given to me by Gary that was for his athletic eligibility and it did ask for courses he had taken and was taking. However, I do not remember it . . . as a guideline of requirements that I was obligated to assist Gary in following."
Although he remembers filling out the form, Brody does not remember telling Wellman what classes he needed to take to meet the NCAA standards, he said.
"And I do not recall, to the best of my ability, being asked," he said.
Albers said he has been asked several times how this could happen, and he's still hard-pressed to come up with an answer.
"I guess the key responsibility still has to be with the youngster to know what the requirements are," Albers said.
"When you're talking about meeting requirements for entrance into universities, we can advise and do what we can, but the youngster certainly has to take responsibility for that, too.
"I think it's hard to assess blame on the school, and yet you feel very bad. This is a fine young man and you'd like to guide him to avoid this sort of situation. . . .
"It's a shame to see him lose a year of eligibility."
Under the NCAA's new rules, Wellman will not lose his scholarship, but will be ineligible to practice with the team for a year, including spring workouts, and will forfeit a year of eligibility.
He could retain a full four years of eligibility--but still not be eligible for a year--if he paid his own way to USC in his freshman year.
Wellman's father, Jack, said his family would issue a statement on the matter next week.