MURRIETA — Vista Murrieta High's state-ranked football team has forfeited five nonleague victories for using an ineligible player, head coach Coley Candaele and athletic director Ray Moore confirmed Monday morning.
The forfeitures came as a result of a self-imposed sanction. The player in question, whose name was not released, was a transfer student from Georgia who came to the school in 2009.
Candaele informed his team in a meeting Monday morning. The players, he said, were obviously disappointed.
"You tell the kids that they had nothing to do with the situation, and that the school had nothing to do with the situation," Candaele said, "and that they are guilty because a former school gave out incorrect information. They are disappointed and hurt emotionally —just what you expect when kids get the news that they have to forfeit five games."
The forfeited victories were those against Etiwanda (31-28), Corona Santiago (25-0), Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos (30-21), Encino Crespi (38-20) and Palisades (37-0).
Heavily recruited junior linebacker Su'a Cravens said the news stunned him and his teammates, but they came out of the meeting — and later, practice — with a sense of resiliency.
"We're definitely motivated right now," Cravens said. "Everyone knows we won those games -- (the CIF SS) can take them away, but we know we won."
"What's done is done," he added later. "We have to focus on our remaining games."
The Broncos, who have reached back-to-back section championship games, opened their season with seven consecutive victories to push themselves into state bowl contention. The latest ESPN Rise poll ranked them No. 3 in the Division I South in the state. Though now 2-5 overall, the forfeits would not affect the team's eligibility for the Southern Section postseason, since the eligibility issue was discovered before the Broncos' first Southwestern League game against Chaparral.
Automatic postseason qualification is based on a team's placing -- the top three -- in the league standings.
"The student in question transferred to Vista Murrieta in the fall of 2009 as a sophomore," the Murrieta Valley Unified School District said in a release. "At that time, the school's former school verified verbally and in writing that the student was entering Vista Murrieta as a sophomore. When a question arose recently regarding the student's transcript, the transferring school informed Vista Murrieta High School administrators that the student was in his ninth semester of high school, a violation of CIF Southern Section By-Laws."
"The new information provided to Vista Murrieta was completely contrary to the written and verbal communication of the student's transcript and grade level that was provided by his former school at the time the student entered Vista Murrieta," the release continued. "The student in question was unaware that being in his ninth semester of high school would have any impact on his athletic eligibility."
The player had not participated in football before transferring to Vista Murrieta High. He came to the area due to a change in guardianship, Candaele said.
"We did our due diligence in calling the school three times to confirm his transcript," Candaele said.
Candaele said the transcript showed the player attending classes in two sessions in 2008. Based on a quarter system, and what had been confirmed to Vista Murrieta officials, their belief was that the represented sessions were for a freshman year that began in 2008.
In actuality, the student had attended classes in the 2007-2008 school year. That fact was discovered prior to the Chaparral game, when the player and an assistant coach were reviewing a college application, Candaele said. Once it was discovered, Candaele said the school brought the issue to the Southern Section.
Vista Murrieta has applied for a hardship waiver to the Southern Section to have the student re-instated for athletics for the remainder of the school year. Hardship waivers are sometimes granted to athletes for extraodrinary circumstances.
The forfeits, though, would likely stand. A waiver cannot be applied retroactively, Southern Section spokesman Thom Simmons said.
"You can't assume a hardship would have been approved," he said. "Once he played in those games — he's ineligible."
Simmons indicated the office recognizes the ineligibility was unintentional on Vista Murrieta's part. But the rule still has to be applied, he said.
That doesn't make it any easier for the Broncos to swallow.
"If it had been our error, then we would have owned up to it and moved on," Moore said. "In this case, we relied on information provided by another school."
The Broncos and Candaele must now prepare to visit Great Oak in their third Southwestern League game Friday.
"You talk to the kids and explain the situation and the opportunity we have for the future," Candaele said, before adding later, "yes, we're all disappointed. But Friday night, we have to focus on a new team."