The athletic scholarship of Cottonwood defensive lineman Keni Kaufusi is in serious jeopardy after the senior was arrested on Friday night by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
"Given what we have learned from the police concerning this situation, it is very doubtful that Keni will become a part of our program," said Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham in a prepared statement. "At this time, removing our offer of financial aid seems to be in order."
Kaufusi was arrested and booked into jail on suspicion of unlawful purchase of alcohol, a weapons violation and a weapons violation with the intent to assault, according to a citation issued to him. Kaufusi's foster father, Steve Martinez, was surprised at the school's decision, especially as no charges have been filed in the case.
"I thought this was America where you're innocent until proven guilty," said Martinez. "We are going to contest the allegations ... It's actually very disappointing that I have to find out from a news reporter rather than getting a call from the school."
Kaufusi said the entire situation is a misunderstanding born out of a desire to cover for his friends who've been supportive of him.
"I wasn't really thinking," he said. "I was just thinking of my friends ... They helped motivate me and get me to this point (in school)."
A talented athlete, Kaufusi has had a tumultuous home life and has attended several schools in the last three years. He seemed to find some stability at Cottonwood and lived most of the time with his biological brother's family as he tried to make up classes through BYU's correspondence program and become academically eligible to play Division I football. Ironically, he found out Monday that he passed a math class and he has just two tests left to take to graduate.
Kaufusi said he and some friends went to a dance club on Highland Drive and when they arrived many patrons were already outside due to a fight.
"We decided not to go in and we saw a group of people standing by the window of the Wendy's that's right next door," Kaufusi said. "We went over and were talking, and one of my friends needed some water. He was having trouble breathing, so I went up to the window and asked for water."
He said the male employee agreed to give him a glass of water, but a female employee said no and then tried to shut the window.
"I said please and pulled the window open," he said. "I said, 'There is a cup there and a sink, please can we have some water?"'
When someone behind him began talking to another employee inside, Kaufusi said he turned and walked away.
"I said, 'Let's just go,"' Kaufusi said. "We started walking toward the car saying, 'I got shotgun.' We all started running toward the car to try and get the front passenger seat."
Just as they got to the car, a patrol car approached them from behind, and officers ordered all of the boys onto the ground.
"The police said, 'I saw you trying to rob the Wendy's,"' Kaufusi said. "And I tried to explain."
He said police searched the car, which doesn't belong to him, and found beer and a loaded 9 mm handgun. When officers demanded to know who the items belonged to, Kaufusi said they were his.
"I didn't want anyone to get mad over it," he said, admitting he now regrets that action. "I knew the beer was there, but I didn't know the gun was there. I made up some story about how I bought it, but I don't have money for a gun."
Martinez said Kaufusi had $5 and some change when he was booked into jail. Kaufusi was released a few hours later and met with pre-trial services Monday afternoon.
While he waits for his first court appearance, Kaufusi said he plans to keep studying and, while he's disappointed he won't be playing for the U., he plans to look for another place to play football."I'm still blown away," he said of Whittingham's statement. "I'm just going to keep studying and pushing until I get it done. At least then I can say I tried my hardest."
Contributing: Dirk Facer E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org