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Stallings says booster a non-factor in recruiting

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

SCOTTSBORO — As pumped-up Alabama fans await Saturday's game with LSU, a trial in a far corner of the state has quietly revived the sordid recruiting scandal that put the Tide on probation in 2002.

A former Alabama booster's defamation suit against the NCAA is being heard on the second floor of the Jackson County Courthouse, far from the crimson and purple hordes invading Tuscaloosa for a game dubbed the Saban Bowl.

But the case, while attracting scant attention beyond the Northeast Alabama courtroom, is weighty enough to draw testimony Friday from former Alabama coach Gene Stallings and former Texas coach John Mackovic.

A longtime fan who lives and breathes Alabama football, timber dealer Ray Keller of Stevenson, is suing the NCAA for allegedly defaming him by calling him and two other men "rogue boosters" and "parasites" in announcing the penalties nearly six years ago.

The NCAA says it never publicly identified Keller, and it's sticking by its findings that accused Keller of improperly contacting recruits and giving one recruit "$100 handshakes," accusations that Keller denies.

Stallings, whose undefeated 1992 Alabama team won a national championship, testified Friday that he had never met Keller or even heard his name.

And he said he would never value Keller's help or opinions about recruiting.

"This man right here probably knows no more than a billy goat about who should play football at Alabama," Stallings said in his Texas twang, prompting laughter from Keller, jurors and everyone else in court.

Stallings was Alabama's coach when some of the recruiting violations occurred in the 1990s, but he was not accused of any wrongdoing.

Keller is seeking an unspecified amount of money from the NCAA and, he says, the restoration of a damaged name.

"That's my ultimate goal, to clear my reputation," Keller testified Thursday.

But NCAA investigator Rich Johanningmeier said in videotaped testimony that Keller made improper visits to the home of one-time Alabama recruit Kenny Smith, and Keller and another booster offered inducements to help lure Smith to Tuscaloosa.

Smith's father, Ken Smith, has testified that he got cash payments of $10,000 on two occasions before his son signed with Alabama, but he said the money was delivered by a middleman and "to my knowledge" Keller had nothing to do with it. He said Keller never pressured his son to sign with Alabama, where he never joined the team because of grades.

The NCAA's defense has said it referred to Keller only as "athletic representative C" and not by name when it announced the penalties. But Keller's name was used by the media, and the university president sent Keller a letter telling him to stay away from Alabama athletics.

Keller and NCAA attorney Allen Dodd battled over who was to blame for Keller's name becoming public, with Dodd repeatedly asking why Keller sued the NCAA rather than the university.

"It was in the national press conference when the NCAA called me all those names. It wasn't The University of Alabama," said Keller.

Keller denied suggestions that he leaked his own name to the media, resulting in the unwanted publicity, but he acknowledged being friendly with a sports writer in Tuscaloosa.

"I wasn't the source for anything, especially about me," Keller said. "Why would I hang myself?"

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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