Chasing glory: Wealthy booster gives Colts a lift — and raises eyebrows

Published: Monday, Oct. 31 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Scott Cate, Cottonwood High offensive coordinator and a multimillionaire booster, talks to his players.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

Scott Cate has all the toys. A 15-passenger jet, a 7,000-square-foot yacht, a speedboat, a 4,000 square-foot houseboat and a high school football team.

He doesn't actually own the Cottonwood Colts, but it certainly seems that way to his detractors on the Utah prep sports scene.

Since the multimillionaire booster and now offensive coordinator sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into upgrading its athletic facilities, once hapless Cottonwood has become the state's marquee school. Cate also funds an after-school tutoring program staffed with former collegians like Jason Kaufusi, who played at Utah.

To some, he is a white knight who has given often struggling teenagers a place to succeed academically and athletically. To others, he is a meddling father who uses his money to recruit talented players around his son Alex, the Colts' LSU-bound starting quarterback.

"I get drilled for spending my money at a public school. Drilled," said Cate, who made his fortune in the telecom industry. "I just do it because I want to be in a high school situation to help kids."

Parents and players have taken notice of the well-stocked weight room, three-story press box with coaches' offices and film room along with the tutoring program. They are taking advantage of Utah's controversial open enrollment law, which allows students to attend any school that has room.

For some, open enrollment is the bane of Utah prep sports.

"Everyone is trying to get people in their communities now to help with the nicer facility to get a better draw of kids. It doesn't make sense to me," said Riverton High coach Mike Miller.

"I think if a kid isn't loyal to your program and is out shopping, then you don't want him anyway because he and his parents will be a pain in the neck."

Open enrollment gives rise to frequent charges of coaches, boosters and parents enticing promising young athletes out of their neighborhood schools. The wooing sometimes starts as early as seventh grade.

Publicly, many coaches are loathe to talk about recruiting; they don't want to come across as crybabies, says one.

Privately, they can't see each other without talking about it. The touchy topic arises "every time we get together, whether it's a region meeting or a casual meeting," said Kearns High coach Doug Bills, president of the Utah High School Football Coaches Association.

In Bills' estimation, it's not so much coaches recruiting players as parents shopping schools.

"It's an ongoing problem that could only be solved one way: You play where you live," he said.

That wasn't good enough for the mother of junior Simi Fili, now a Cottonwood star defensive lineman.

Fili's mom showed up in the weight room one afternoon with her 325-pound son in tow. He'd been at Juan Diego and Highland, and the boy's grades were atrocious, she said. Over months, the boy's family had been negotiating with three schools as coaches vied for his athletic talent. Meanwhile, Fili was flunking out. Cottonwood was the only school talking about Fili's grades and education, said mother Le'o Fili.

"I knew that I needed help with him," she said. "Cottonwood already had the program in place. It felt like a good fit for Simi."

He landed on the Colts' roster. Last week, he was in study hall working with tutors paid by Cate. He is maintaining his grades.

These kinds of stories don't make the view from the Kearns bench any easier to take.

Bills counted 11 players living within the Kearns boundaries on rival Hunter High's sideline during a lopsided loss this season. "You don't mind getting beat," he said, "but you hate getting beat by your own kids."

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