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Tragedy Returns to Arizona State

Months after the death of Tillman in combat, tailback Wade is in jail, accused of killing former player Falkner.

March 30, 2005|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

"The reality is we will be stigmatized to some degree like Baylor," Smith said of the scandal that last year rocked the Texas school.

The Baylor case involved the murder of basketball player Patrick Dennehy -- allegedly by former teammate Carlton Dotson -- and a subsequent cover-up involving then-coach Dave Bliss, who tried to portray Dennehy as a drug user in tapes secretly recorded by an assistant coach.

"It's far from the Baylor situation," Smith said. "Everything from me standing here and being open to you. There's nothing we're hiding. It's a little different from that one but, yeah, the black eye's the same."

Smith said Arizona State has a strict policy against its athletes carrying weapons and that his department "constantly" preaches to players about its no-gun policy.

"Obviously, it didn't work," Smith said.

Smith, a defensive end on Notre Dame's 1973 national championship team, termed "scary" the proliferation of gun use in society.

"I got my butt kicked a lot of times, by a lot of fists and a lot of kicks in the side," he said. "Today those aren't kicks. It's a different deal."

A sports information assistant described Wade as "humble" and "quiet."

Asked if she knew Wade well, she replied, "I thought I did."

Wade is not the first Arizona State tailback to run afoul of the law. Last year, Koetter dismissed Hakim Hill after a series of off-the-field problems. Hill transferred to Northern Iowa but was soon dismissed after an altercation with a police officer in Iowa City.

Wade was not a household name outside Tempe sports circles but figured prominently in the future of a struggling Arizona State running game that averaged only 3.3 yards per carry last year.

Wade rushed for 1,391 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior at Serra in 2002.

He rushed for 773 yards for Arizona State as a freshman in 2003 and had 203 yards in 50 carries in three games last year before his suspension.

Arizona State has 15 starters returning from last year's 9-3 team and is expected to be a top-20 team in many preseason polls.

"It makes us look really bad," said Parkinson, a broadcast-journalism major who played football at nearby Desert Mountain High. "To find out that one of our big players on the football team was involved in a murder? It's a pretty big deal. Of course it's going to reflect on ASU."

At "The Cap Company," a sports apparel store downtown, manager Tim Soukup, an Arizona State graduate, recalled the international outpouring that followed Tillman's death and how his legacy, on the field and in battle, reflected positively on the school.

"This story is the exact opposite," Soukup said of the Falkner case.

Soukup said he doesn't believe the football program should be held responsible for what happened.

"I think people will look at it as an isolated incident of an incredibly unthinking kid," he said.

Soukup said he considered the point-shaving scandal involving the basketball team in the 1980s more of an indictment of the athletic department.

Not in dispute is the fact it will be some time before Arizona State comes to terms with Falkner's death and the man who allegedly pulled the trigger.

"There are two lives lost here," Smith, the athletic director, said. "One permanently. Lord knows where the other one goes."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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