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August 7, 2011

Seastrunk family clears air

What began as a simple reading of articles to understand a complex story of influence became more. As we worked through numerous articles about the recruitment of Lache Seastrunk, there were a couple of key moments that started to paint a picture, but these only touched around the fringe of the story. In all the research we had done, we had been unable to find mention of Will Lyles in any story. But, we found one mention about a high school counselor that was referred to as a mentor.

From this tiny tidbit, a story grew and began to take on a life of its own. In a saga that had heard only one voice speak, we felt that there were others that might add clarity. The intent of the original article was simply to find some nuggets of the truth, through research on the internet, which had been seemingly overlooked. After publishing the original article and word began to spread, the principles began to reach out to contact us to give their side of the story. This article is the result.

In a Duck Sports Authority exclusive interview with several close relatives of Lache Seastrunk as well as Deanna and Scott Carter, the nature of the relationship between Deanna Carter, Scott Carter, Will Lyles, Lache Seastrunk and his extended family became much clearer than had been depicted.

DEANNA AND SCOTT CARTER: EDUCATORS MAKING A DIFFERENCE

Mrs. Carter and her husband Scott first met Lache Seastrunk when he was in grade school. During youth football, Scott Carter was a Physical Education teacher for Lache during sixth grade and coached him in football during seventh grade. Scott Carter knew instantly that Lache was going to be a special athlete. That was a given for a kid that ran a 4.9 second 40 yard dash in sixth grade. Scott Carter never doubted that Lache had the talent to play on Saturdays. What Scott does remember, though, is that "In my time at Temple I had seen so many great athletes never make it, never be able to play in high school because they could not pass or stayed in trouble. Many who did play never had a chance to play on Saturdays because either they did not have the grades, scored poorly on SAT or ACT, or just flat had no idea how to do a FASFA or apply for financial aid. So many kids fall through the cracks."

This is when Deanna really got to know Lache. As educators, work took Deanna and Scott Carter away from Temple for a couple of years. Nonetheless, they were determined, Scott Carter says, to "make sure Lache did not fall through those cracks." Deanna returned to Temple in summer 2008. When she did, she and Scott felt as if God had planned it. "She was hired to be a diagnostician there and Lache was one of her kids," Scott recalls. "That allowed her to make sure he got all the tutoring and help he needed. When I came back the following year I was somewhat able to help him as well, mainly just a male role model for him to talk to and get advice from."

At Temple High School, Deanna Carter was proactive in attempting to get young special education students their diplomas. In one year, she put 18 kids into her Alternative HS program. 14 of them graduated and nine of those graduated early. This was a woman working hard at her job. But she also found time to include Lache in her life.

When Will Lyles first met Lache, Scott and Deanna Carter as well as Lache's family, warned Lache of the relationship. Scott Carter told Duck Sports Authority, "As a high school football coach in Texas I knew that he didn't need anyone to 'get him a scholarship' because his talent would take care of that."

Many people had heard rumors and were concerned that, due to Lache's warm heart, that he might have let a bad influence into his life. Nonetheless, neither the family nor Deanna saw much of Will Lyles. In independent interviews two very close family members and Deanna all say they only saw Will Lyles at a Temple football game on two occasions. A very close family member had to be reminded who he was later, as he had only met Will one time during a football game. Will Lyles was around Lache's family very seldom.

Mrs. Carter, in a lengthy interview, remembers that "from probably Christmas of his junior year until around October of his senior year I had assumed that Lyles was out of the picture." Lache wasn't talking much about Lyles. Scott Carter stated that after a while, Will Lyles began to distance himself from Evelyn.

Starting in about October 2009, Lache started talking to Deanna Carter about Lyles. Knowing how she felt about Lyles, Seastrunk asked her to talk to Lyles on the phone. After speaking with Lyles, she was surprised to find out that Will said he, too, only wanted to help Lache be successful where ever he may have ended up in his decision process. Nonetheless, Mrs. Carter wanted to be sure that she had some control and not allow a man who barely knew Lache to have too much control over his life choices.

Deanna and Scott Carter's relationship with Lache was very real. Deanna went to the Army All-American game; Scott and Deanna were at his press conference, wearing Duck gear when Lache announced his decision. Lache was close enough with the family that he was at their son's birthday party. All along, Deanna was his counselor, and her assistance went beyond talking about recruiting. According to Lache's family, she was instrumental in helping him with many aspects of school including testing, homework, planning, study habits; all of the things that good counselors do for their students. While Lache may have thought she might have become too protective of him, he did listen to her and she was a major influence on him.

As the time to begin making a decision grew nearer, Carter says she "knew his top five schools but was helping him with his applications and told him I wasn't doing five applications and wanted them done before we went back to school for second semester. So before he went to Hawaii (Hawaii/Polynesian-Mainland Bowl, December 12, 2009) he told me to fill out the USC application... then when he was on his visit to Oregon (Lache Seastrunk visited Oregon during the weekend of December 18, 2009) he called me and asked me to 'please fill out this app too' so they were obviously very impressionable while he was there...and yes, he went by himself. That was actually the first time I had even thought he was really considering Oregon."

The Oregon visit truly made an impact on Lache Seastrunk. Prior to the visit, he had Mrs. Carter fill out a single college application. His visit changed everything, as he confirmed to Duck Sports Authority just following the visit. "It's nice," Seastrunk said. "I like the way they run the offense. It really opens you up and puts you in space. I really like this offense. I also like Coach Kelly, he's very offensive minded.

"I like it here in Eugene," said Seastrunk. "It's just like back at home, real quiet. I really don't do a lot anyway, so I see this as a perfect fit.

"I'm having a great time," said the coveted recruit. "This is a really great experience. Everybody is welcoming me with open arms. They're open to me. I can't even explain it I'm having such a good time here."

When it became clear to Mrs. Carter that Lache was now down to Oregon and USC as his final two choices, she did feel, and she advised Lache of this, that Oregon was a better place for Lache because it was a considerably safer environment for a young man.

As National Letter of Intent Day (the first day football players can officially sign their letter of intent) drew closer, Lache began to lean to USC, but, the more he talked to Coach Kelly and "picked his brain" the more he began to feel Oregon was a better fit for his skills. One uncle remembers asking Lache why he was considering Oregon, and it came down to the fact that he was told by Lache, "At Oregon I won't have to learn a whole new terminology system and I will get a chance to play early. The offense really fits me well."

After his father called and told him of a dream he had of Lache playing in "all-white" uniforms, the decision was all but made. The last hurdle left for Lache Seastrunk to attend the University of Oregon was ensuring his Letter of Intent would be signed by his guardian. Lache began to fear that this was a problem. This was a twist to the story presented by Will Lyles to Yahoo.com in July in which Lyles says that he played a "pivotal role in (Seastrunk signing with Oregon)."

"Lache came to me one day," Carter says, "which he would stop by my office several times every day to run all of his thoughts by me, and he was clearly upset. He said he found out you had to be 21 in order to sign your own LOI and he was afraid his mom wasn't going to sign his to go to Oregon. He asked me if I know if anyone else could sign it. I told him to let me do some checking and I would let him know, which was basically my answer to everything all the time because I was not going to steer him wrong."

From there, she went to the internet and did some research and found the following information:

"Under specified circumstances. If your parent or legal guardian is not available (incarcerated, death, etc.), it is permissible for another individual to sign the NLI with you. He or she must be approved in advance by the NLI Office before you sign the NLI. In order to gain approval, you should work with the school recruiting you to put together a statement with the following information: (1) Explain why your parent or legal guardian is unable to sign the NLI with you. (2) Include the name and signature of someone (not a coach or athletics administrator) who has agreed to sign with you. (3) Sign the statement yourself. (4) Have the school submit the statement and any supporting documentation to the NLI Office for review and a decision."

Having not been in contact with any of the football coaches or staff, Deanna was unaware of who to contact at Oregon with Lache's information, so she called Will Lyles and asked him for contact information at which point she was directed to Bill Clever (Assistant Athletic Director at Oregon) and Josh Gibson (Assistant Director of Football Operations). From there, Carter continues, "Clever contacted the NLI board to see what other info they needed. Lache wrote the letter, he and his grandma signed it, and per the instructions I submitted it to the U of O for Lache so that it could be submitted for review."

The Carter family only had one more task to accomplish. In June 2010, shortly after graduating from Temple High School, Lache Seastrunk came to Oregon in the car with Deanna and Scott Carter. The Carters used their vacation time to drive Lache to Oregon. Along the way, they were able to spend some time in Boise with one of Lache's elementary school teachers. Everyone was put at ease when they learned that Lache would be roommates with Eric Dungy, Tony Dungy's son. They could not have hoped for a better situation for this young man. Deanna Carter cried as she dropped Lache off in Eugene.

As a final piece of pre-college advice, Scott Carter offered these words to Lache, "I told him that day that it was time for the training wheels to come off, that everything he had worked for and learned he was going to have to begin doing on his own, and that I was very proud of him. Then I told him that this was just the beginning and that he was going to have to work harder than he ever had to prove himself to Coach Campbell and the staff and the team. I told him to not dare allow the gifts and opportunities God had given him to go unfulfilled, that neither he nor I had a clue what His plan for him was but to know that there was a plan, all he had to do was work hard in the classroom and on the field and God would handle the rest." Along the road from Temple, Texas, through Boise Idaho, to Eugene, Oregon, Deanna and Scott Carter, their two sons, and Lache Seastrunk shared memories, laughs and a great road trip.

EXTENDED FAMILY: THE SEASTRUNK FAMILY SPEAKS ABOUT THEIR "VILLAGE"

The road to Oregon was not always smooth, but along the way, the village that was Temple, Texas, and Lache Seastrunk's extended family took care of him. He had an uncle that gave him the very sage advice. As a kid, Lache actually wanted to be "like Mike." He was dunking the ball in eighth grade at 5-foot-8 inches tall. But, his uncle knew that he was not going to be much taller than 5-foot-10 and told him "you better worry about carrying a ball and not shooting." It wasn't until about Lache's junior year of high school that he began to see the light and understand he was probably just about done growing. Football was his ticket, not basketball. His uncle had been right.

"And that's the thing about Lache," he said of his nephew. "He has to see for himself. No one could really push him into anything he didn't want."

Lache's cousin Terrell Jackson, who plays receiver at the University of Buffalo, also spoke with Lache frequently, but mostly about what to expect from college. He did not even discuss the specific schools, but gave Lache sage advice on how to adapt to where ever he ended up
choosing to go to college. There were many, many people who supported Lache in his growth and development. To paint the picture of a single mentor is extremely unfair to the family who stood beside him for 18 years. To insinuate that a man, who had known Lache for such a short
time, was able to wield some mysterious power over an otherwise strong, independent young man is almost ludicrous. To hear his family speak, most of them never saw Lache and Will together.

Through all of this, many of Lache's closest family members were there for support of Lache, but attempted to avoid feeling as if they were pushing him anywhere. Many of his family members did not really care for Will Lyles. They felt as if he was literally "just a leech" feeding off of
an already extremely talented young man. Lache was getting a scholarship; he was going to a major university and needed no help getting there.

When it came to his recruitment, though, most of his family went against advising him about his final destination. All of his family agreed that it needed to be his decision. The only advice one family member ever offered was regarding USC. Just as it was becoming evident Pete Carroll
was leaving for the NFL, Lache was still considering them. The only advice he received from his family was simply "Do you really want to go someplace that is about to get sanctions?"

When Lache sought advice about specific schools, most of the family was convinced it was either LSU or Texas; but Lache was not as interested in Texas as the other schools. As previously reported, Lache Seastrunk had developed a strong bond with LSU Running Back coach Larry Porter. In fact, the bond was strong enough that, when Porter left LSU to become the Head Coach at the University of Memphis, Seastrunk strongly considered Memphis as a possible destination.

On January 27, 2010, Lache made public his intent to attend the University of Oregon. At this point, it was still one week before the first day he could sign his letter of intent. The school held a press conference where he announced his decision in his high school gym.

Lache came out in a Duck shirt, blew on a "Duck call" and announced he would be attending the University of Oregon. Evelyn Seastrunk, like all of Lache's aunts, uncles, cousins, family and
friends, expressed a great deal of happiness for Lache. Despite the desires of everyone, Lache had truly made his own decision. And this is a fact no one denies. Oregon was Lache Seastrunk's choice.

Lache's family supported his decision because this was his moment. No one was going to take that moment away from Lache Seastrunk. His family and friends gave him the room and advice to allow him to make a decision, as any good family would.

Evelyn was most certainly upset that her parental rights had been circumvented. As one family member put it "how would you feel if someone signed something that took away your rights as a parent? Regardless of what she had done in the past, she felt very hurt by this action."

Lost, though, in today's continuing headlines, is the pain that all of the negative attention has caused the rest of the Seastrunk family. Lache has young cousins who look up to him as a great example; the wild accusations are bad enough. But this is not the worst of it for the family. Many of Lache's family are long time, die-hard, Texas Longhorn fans. The family has had to endure being cursed at and ridiculed in public over the alleged actions of Will Lyles. And that is a shame. These family members have done everything they could to help raise Lache. As one family member states "that old saying about it taking a village, Lache had a village. And we, his family, were a big part of that village." And he is right; the village did help with Lache.

Through all of this, though, Lache has stayed true to his family and friends. Throughout it all, family members confirm, Lache Seastrunk never once felt as if Will Lyles was doing anything other than trying to help. But Will Lyles was not Lache's sole source of advice; he had
plenty of family that gave him an ear, a shoulder and a hug when needed. His extended family strongly supported him throughout the process and let him make his own decisions like a man should. "His was a story that could have gone wrong but did not," Scott Carter told Duck Sports Authority. "For that I am very grateful."

The common thread for all of his family and friends; football is the least of their worries, "What is most important? I would judge Lache more on how good a student, husband, and father he turned out to be," said Scott Carter. "In short, I want Lache to be a good man."

What it all boils down, the influence of Will Lyles, while real, was nowhere near as powerful as many have suggested. He had known Lache for a scant 18 months when Lache made his announcement. He had been to all of two Temple High School football games during that time span which encompassed two football seasons.

In the end, one thing became abundantly clear in speaking with his family, Will Lyles did not steer Lache to Oregon. Will Lyles was not at Lache's press conference to announce his college choice. By dismantling the "mentor" relationship Lyles claimed to have had on Lache, his alleged influence is dismantled.

After his initial homesickness, a new light has turned on. Lache Seastrunk has grown to truly love Oregon. When he calls home to talk to family, Seastrunk raves on and on about the University of Oregon. In fact, while we were talking to one family member, Lache showed up at their door for a visit. With summer conditioning over, and a week of free time, Lache went home to visit family and friends. It was a whirlwind tour, to be sure, but he saw everyone before heading back to Oregon It is safe to say that after all the turmoil he has faced, he is truly happy with his decision. Based on conversations with several family members and Deanna Carter, Lache has not talked to Will Lyles in a long time. He has promised his family to avoid Will Lyles.

Mentoring young men is a privilege. Many people are incredible role models for these young men as they grow. Unfortunately, some of these young men have promise and potential beyond the comprehension of "mere mortals." But as many know, the toughest thing you can do with a young man is teach him how to make decisions and then allow him to do so. It becomes a natural instinct to "step in and save him" from what you think is a bad decision. But to truly let him learn, you must allow him to make that bad decision. You cannot be there forever.

Lache Seastrunk's family make one thing very clear; this is a young man with a huge heart, an infectious smile and a generous spirit. He loved people and accepted them into his life as if they were his own. The Seastrunk family is a very strong and loving family, despite all of the well-chronicled troubles Lache experienced. According to an uncle who was very close with Lache, his grandmother Annie, whom Lache affectionately calls 'Nana' was the one constant in his life. She made him the man he is today. Nana taught Lache the true spirit of respect and Lache will always refer to his elders as "sir" or "ma'am." According to Lache's family, everything he is he owes to her. If he needs a positive role model and mentor, he needs look no further than Nana. And, of course, his extended family, his mentors, his village.

Lache's village was diverse. A counselor who cared deeply for this young man. An uncle who was firm and strong, a man who recognized Lache needed someone to be straight with him. A cousin who was already in college playing football. A family friend. His grandma, Nana. This was the village that made Lache Seastrunk his own man and gave Lache his voice. The voice he used to choose the University of Oregon.


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