Football Writers Association of America 2008 BEST WRITING CONTEST

Moffitt's wife says she wrote papers, took classes for USF linebacker
Brett McMurphy, Tampa Tribune

TAMPA – Shauna Moffitt, the wife of University of South Florida senior linebacker Ben Moffitt, said she wrote nearly every paper for him during his five years at USF and also completed two online courses for him.

"Ben Moffitt has never written a paper," Shauna said. "Never. Ever. I love him, but he doesn't know how to spell. He cheats."

Ben Moffitt, 23, who filed for divorce on Thursday from his wife of five years, called the accusations "hearsay. That's all I can say. It's very unfortunate for my kids," he said, referring all questions to his attorneys. Ben Moffitt left his wife and 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter on Nov. 11, Shauna said.

Brett McMurphy
Tampa Tribune, Tampa, Fla.
Age: 46
College: Oklahoma State
Background: McMurphy has worked at the Tribune since 1987, where he has covered high schools and colleges, including the last nine years as the beat writer for the University of South Florida. Before coming to Tampa, he worked two years at the Odessa American, covering Permian High School. A native of Oklahoma City, McMurphy has won an APSE award and has received three FWAA honorable mentions. He and his wife, Susan, have a 4-year old daughter, Chesney.

Shauna Moffitt, 26, e-mailed to The Tampa Tribune copies of six assignments she said she wrote for her husband between Jan. 17, 2007, and Oct. 10, 2007. She said she wrote all of the assignments on her computer at the Sumter County appraiser's office, where she is a data specialist.

Sheree Ellis, Shauna's twin sister, also provided copies of three papers from her home computer in Wildwood that she said she wrote for Ben Moffitt when he was pursuing an education degree. Those papers are dated between Nov. 6, 2005, and March 24, 2006. Stephanie Jordan, the mother of Shauna and Sheree, said she was aware her daughters wrote papers for Ben.

A four-year starter at USF, Ben Moffitt completed his eligibility in Monday's Sun Bowl. If it is found that Moffitt committed academic fraud, the school could be subject to NCAA investigation.

USF coach Jim Leavitt would not comment. Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who is Moffitt's linebackers coach, said he had no knowledge of Moffitt not doing his own school work.

"It's hearsay, it's a domestic issue and there's nothing at this point to consider," university spokesman Ken Gullette said.

Ben Moffitt retained attorneys Mary Hatcher and A.J. Roye on Thursday. Roye would not address the specific allegations that Moffitt's wife did his class work and online courses.

"Our comment is the media is the improper place to try these things," Roye said. "But without a doubt, she's attempting to damage him. Whether it's true or not, she's attempting to damage his reputation and will have an effect on his children and she's harming the family."

Among the papers Ellis said she wrote for Moffitt and provided to the Tribune was one for his Intro to Education and Field Experience class in which Moffitt described visiting Ellis' first-grade class. Ellis said it was part of Moffitt's class requirement to observe 15 hours during a semester.

However, Ellis said Moffitt never observed her classroom, but she filled out the paperwork indicating he had.

"He asked me for my help," Ellis said. "I knew he had football. He was a dad, he was going to school. I wanted to help, because everything I did to help was for him to get his degree and help Shauna and the children."

Ellis said she stopped writing papers for Moffitt in the spring of 2006 when he changed his major from education to communications. USF sports information director Chris Freet confirmed that Moffitt's major is communications.

Moffitt carried 14 hours this past semester.

The Moffitts were married June 16, 2002, the summer before Ben's senior year at South Sumter High School.

After Ben left the family on Nov. 11, the Sunday after USF played Syracuse, Shauna said she didn't know Ben's whereabouts and that he stopped using his scholarship money to make the mortgage payment.

Frustrated, Shauna said she drove to Tampa on Dec. 3 and went to the USF coaching offices, where she talked to graduate assistant Patrick St. Louis.

"Pat's exact words: 'I know your name should be on that diploma. I know you did all the work,'" Shauna said.

St. Louis denied that conversation took place. He said he hasn't seen Shauna since "one of the football games" and he did not talk to her in the coaches' office. Burnham said he met with Shauna on Dec. 3 in his office and remembered seeing St. Louis talking with Shauna.

Burnham said his conversation with Shauna was about the Moffitts' marital situation and nothing was mentioned about academic accusations.

Shauna said neither Burnham nor Leavitt was aware she had written papers for Ben, but it was common knowledge among the players, including St. Louis, who played linebacker the past four years and is in his first season as a graduate assistant at USF.

“We were a team," Shauna said. "I did the papers in order for Ben to play. I'd write his paper and he'd go clean the kitchen.

"I wrote those papers because I love him and I was trying to help our future. I don't want to do anything that (Continued from page 15) won't please Christ. I'm tired of him [being portrayed] as Mr. Wonderful. He's been awful, awful to me and these kids for two months."

Shauna initially e-mailed the Tribune on Thursday morning that Ben was being falsely portrayed in the media.

USF had heavily promoted Moffitt to the media as a devout family man, pushing him for national honors with the phrase: "Linebacker. Leader. Husband. Father."

He was the focus of features by the New York Times and ESPN in part because of his daily 110-mile roundtrip drive from the family's South Sumter home to USF.

He earned All-Big East honors, was a third-team All- American and was nominated for various national defensive awards, including the Butkus Award and Lott Trophy.

In El Paso, Texas, last week for the Sun Bowl, Moffitt talked about the difficulty of his five years juggling school, family and football.

"It's extremely hard, but you find a way to do it," Moffitt said. "It's been a long road the last five years."

Moffitt is projected as USF's third-best NFL draft prospect and is expected to be a mid-round selection.

"I'm not a liar, I don't have anything to hide," Shauna said. "I'm still supporting Ben. We have two children.

“I keep waking up and hoping he wakes up. This isn’t the real Ben.”


Comment of the judge, Gene Duffey: The writer delivered all the key information in the first paragraph, then followed that up with a great quote about how the player "doesn't know how to spell" and "cheats." Further quotes from the wife are very powerful, such as "He's been awful to me and the kids." Also liked how the defensive coordinator contradicted the statement by the grad assistant. Good job talking to every one involved, including those non-denial quotes from the player and his lawyer.

• Second place: O.K. Davis, The Ruston Daily Leader
• Third place: Brady McCollough, Kansas City Star
• Honorable mention: Cliff Kirkpatrick, Corvallis Gazette-Times; Pete DiPrimio, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel; Cory Giger, Altoona (Pa.) Mirror