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A year later UT can laugh about "old" player

By CHIP BROWN / Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. - Texas tight end Pat Fitzgerald jokes about making sure every player on the roster for the Fiesta Bowl is who he says he is.

The 20th-ranked Longhorns (8-4), who will face seventh-ranked Penn State (10-2) on New Year's Day, can laugh about it now. They weren't laughing a year ago.

The day before last year's Sugar Bowl matchup against Virginia Tech, the Longhorns gasped upon learning that they had an impostor on their roster.

A defensive back they had known all season as 23-year-old Ron McKelvey was exposed as Ron Weaver, a 30-year-old who used someone else's Social Security number to change his identity and extend his college football playing days.

After a story about his true identity surfaced in his hometown newspaper in Salinas, Calif., Weaver disappeared from the team's hotel in New Orleans without an explanation.

There were reports that he had gone undercover to write a tell-all book. Players struggled to recall what they had ever told him, fearful their conversations would come back to haunt them in print. Strategy for the Sugar Bowl became an afterthought on the eve of the most important bowl game for Texas in more than five years.

The following day, Texas took an early 10-0 lead before losing to Virginia Tech, 28-10, finishing the season 10-2-1 and without the bowl victory they had hoped would prove the program had returned to national prominence.

Players don't openly blame the scandal for the loss, but it may have contributed, they say.

"I think it was too bad," said offensive guard Dan Neil. "It tarnished a great year for us and the trip to the Sugar Bowl.

"I'm not going to blame the loss on that. But people kind of lost focus because no one knew how to react," Neil said. "The result of it all left a lot of heads spinning."

Center Ryan Fiebiger remembers players trying to joke about it at the team's final practice before the Sugar Bowl in an effort to loosen up.

"We were running around saying we weren't really who we were," he said. "I would say, 'I'm not Ryan Fiebiger. I'm someone else."

But the circus atmosphere surrounding Weaver's double identity ate at players even more after the game.

"Once it sunk in that we were playing in our first major bowl game in several years and the Weaver ordeal had become the focus, I was irritated," Neil said.

"I don't know how much it took away from the game, but it was so mentally draining thinking about all the things that were going on," Fitzgerald said. "I'm not going to attribute the loss to that, but it definitely had an effect on the team."

After exhausting his eligibility at Sacramento State in 1989, Weaver said he took the identity of 23-year-old Joel Ron McKelvey, an acquaintance from California, simply out of his love for playing football.

Under McKelvey's name, he played two seasons at Los Angeles Pierce Community College and last season at Texas.

Thus far, there has been no book, and in May Weaver pleaded guilty in federal court in California to misusing a Social Security number. He didn't receive any prison time.

Weaver, who was popular among players on the Texas team, has now become a running joke, even with coach John Mackovic.

When Donovan Bailey, the Olympic gold-medal sprinter from Canada stopped by to talk to the Texas team earlier this season, he started his address by saying, "I know I'm a lot older than you guys ..."

He was quickly interrupted by Mackovic, who said, "I don't know, last year we had a 30-year-old on our team."

Texas linebacker Tyson King recalled Weaver as someone who looked out for the well-being of other players. But now he wonders if there wasn't a hidden reason for those good intentions.

"I remember one night we all went out and this guy started talking trash to us," King said. "We were about to get into it with the guy, but Ron told us to forget about it and not to get into any trouble.

"Now, I think he avoided getting into a fight because he didn't want to get fingerprinted."


All content copyright 1996, AP, KRT, The Abilene Reporter-News and Reporter OnLine

 

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