Roger DuPaix emphatically denies that he or any of his assistant coaches have ever recruited a football player to come to Skyline High.
But the Eagles' coach knows that many coaches and parents accuse him and his staff of trying to pluck out the top talent from around the valley. He's heard all the recruiting rumors."We've been accused of this now for, I don't know, eight, nine, 10 years," he says. "We don't recruit. We don't search out people and tell them they need to come to Skyline."
DuPaix's favorite rumor is the one that says he offered potential players free trips to Hawaii if they'd wear the Skyline navy blue and gold. He also incredulously laughs about an allegation that he's tried to persuade church leaders to convince their young athletes they should play for him.
"It's just rumors," DuPaix insists.
Nevertheless, it's always fairly easy to tell when the Skyline football team has just won another state championship - and for more than the obvious reason that the Eagles are the only ones celebrating.
Aside perhaps from an occasional hazing incident, no other high school topic elicits more angry calls to the local sports radio shows or more letters to the editor than the alleged Skyline "recruiting." It didn't take long after the Eagles were awarded the trophy last November before the rumors resurfaced.
"If we win, people are upset at us," says DuPaix, "and if we don't win, people don't ask much about it."
It just so happens that Skyline usually wins. The Eagles have won three titles in a row and a total of five in the '90s. According to DuPaix, they did that all legally and honestly.
"We know that Skyline is under the microscope and that people are watching us," he said. "We've tried to do everything correctly and not do anything that is wrong and just try to run a good program.
"If we did do some recruiting, it would be front-page news and everybody would say, `A-ha! We got one,' but that's not going to happen."
If anybody can empathize with DuPaix it's Dave Houle.
Houle has had enormous success at Mountain View High, where he has coached the Bruins' girls basketball, cross country and track to 33 championships.
And he, too, is often accused of recruiting athletes.
The Utah Cross Country Review recently printed an editorial by someone nicknamed "mini Pre" that criticized Houle and his nationally ranked cross country program. The letter pointed out that seven of 10 Bruin runners don't live within Mountain View limits.
"As a result of recruiting top athletes outside of Mountain View's geographic limits, the remaining high schools' programs within Alpine School District are adversely affected. . . . Mountain View seems to be trapped between the stress of keeping a nationally ranked team alive year after year and following the ethical rules of coaching," mini Pre wrote.
There are also coaches who refer to Mountain View's girls basketball team as the "Utah County All-Stars," because several of the players don't live in the Orem school's borders.
Houle adamantly refutes the recruiting rumors, including the one that he supposedly got a javelin thrower's father a job at BYU because they chose Mountain View.
"I'm telling you, there's not one kid in this state that can come face-to-face with me and say that I've asked them to come play for me," Houle said. "They're really brave to make those accusations and say I know this is going on, but I know in my heart I don't recruit."
Evan Excell, the executive director of the Utah High School Activities Association, doesn't doubt that a little bit of recruiting might be going on somewhere in the state. He dispels most of the rumors as hearsay, though, mostly because there hasn't been one official hearing on a recruiting violation during his four-year tenure.
"Most of the talk about recruiting in our high schools is just talk," Excell says. "I'm not naive enough to believe there isn't recruiting going on out there . . . but with open enrollment there, you can say you have the choice. That's pretty tough to prove as recruiting."
Still, many complain that the Eagles have too many players on their roster who live outside their school boundaries. After his favored team was defeated in the 5A title game, Brighton coach Lynn Freestone even openly grumbled that the Skyline dynasty would continue as long as Utah's open-enrollment policy stays in place.
"I don't want to come across as a whining coach, but the facts speak for themselves. We had a coach who checked out their roster, and it was phenomenal how many kids didn't live in their area," he said.
And Freestone's not convinced that all those students went to Skyline for the academic programs.
"The recruiting belongs in colleges, not in high school. It's really out of control. It's a bad situation," he said. "We're insane not to do the same things, to not go after the great athletes.
"But if we do, we belong on the college level, not on the high school level. We have a hard enough time hanging on to our own kids to try to go after other kids."
Perhaps lost in the recruiting talk is the fact that Skyline won the championship but didn't produce any Division I college players this year. The closest the Eagles got was that Deseret News 5A MVP Josh Lyman and his twin, Jeremy, were both invited to walk-on at Nebraska.
"They maybe did as good a coaching job (this year) as I've ever seen, but it's overshadowed by this recruiting thing," said Davis coach Jim Dickson. "That's really too bad."
"If we're supposed to have all these super-talented players, how come none of them are going to BYU or Utah?" asked DuPaix, who was miffed that his players were ignored by the Division I schools. "We think they should've been visited, but they didn't get many visits. They should've though."
Freestone isn't alone in his displeasure. Two years ago, a group of coaches tried to get a "play-where-you-live" rule installed.
DuPaix said that rule would have devastated his program and that it would have been unfair to the kids who wanted to participate in other activities.
"It didn't make any sense and it still doesn't," he said. "Anybody with an ounce of brains saw how illogical it was."
It did, however, have support from the Utah Football Coaches Association and by the majority of athletic directors, but it was rejected by the Utah High School Activities Association's board of trustees.
"A few years ago the Legislature proposed the law that you can go anywhere, no restrictions," Excell said. "Based on that open-enrollment policy, it makes it really difficult for an association like ours to say you can go there but you can't play."
To keep it legal a few guidelines have to be followed:
- Upon first enrollment, students can attend any school of their liking and be eligible to play sports.
- Some students have the option of which school to attend if they live in a certain "block area." This can help overcrowded schools (like Brighton) while filling up other schools that don't have enough in-area students (such as Skyline).
- A student can also transfer with no problems if his parent or legal guardian moves into the new school's boundaries.
- When students transfer for athletic purposes, they are required to get signatures from both the new and old principals agreeing on the switch. Then they must wait a full 12 months at their new school before eligibility is restored. On rare occasions, this rule can be waived.
DuPaix figures between 35 percent to 40 percent of his players last season weren't from the Skyline area. That number, he says, coincides with the number of other students who don't live in the school area but legally go there anyway.
Ironically, DuPaix feels that he is actually the one who gets recruited sometimes.
"I get calls from fathers and kids themselves. I just tell them that we don't do anything illegal," he said. "If you come to Skyline everything is by the book."
Same goes for Houle, who said that he leaves the choice up to the family of the athlete.
"When kids come to our school I take them right to our administration," he said. "If they decide to come here, then I'll talk to them. I don't talk to them unless the family has made a decision."
Houle said that he didn't have any out-of-area athletes for his first 20 championships at Mountain View. Then Regan Scott's family moved in from Missouri when her dad, Ray, changed jobs. The Scotts decided to send Regan, who went on to play for Colorado, to Mountain View over Orem and Bingham.
"From that day I was accused of recruiting kids," Houle said. "Like I actually have the power to tell people to quit their jobs, move to Utah County just to play basketball, run cross country or track? It's ludicrous to me that anyone believes that I have that kind of power."
Alta quarterback Lance Jensen, who was a three-year starter for the Hawks, was the recipient of a form of Skyline recruiting before he began his prep career. However, it was a parent of a football player, not a coach, who approached Lance's father, Phil, about having him play there.
"There's a lot of networking between the parents," said Phil, who is Alta's offensive coordinator. "The coaches never discourage it. I don't think any coaches are out there recruiting."
Phil said the parent told him he had talked with the Skyline coaches and that they had a place for Lance to fit in as the next quarterback four years ago.
"I just kind of giggled, because I knew I was going to come back to Alta (to coach)," said Phil, who wasn't coaching at the time. "They knew that and I thought it was pretty bold."
Any recruiting violation - or undue use, according to the UHSAA by-laws - would result in a one-year suspension for the student-athlete and a possible fine and/or suspension for the involved school.
Next Monday: Do eastside high schools enjoy a competitive advantage over their westside counterparts?