Kent State University is reviewing the status of an incoming freshman athlete because he was a member of the Steubenville, OH high school football team, two members of which have been charged in connection with a notorious rape case.
Kent State officials are closely watching the case, in which two Steubenville football players are set to go to trial next month on charges of raping a 16-year-old girl in August 2012.
Of interest to Kent State is whether the case expands to charges against other members of the Steubenville Big Red football team.
"This is a top priority," Kent State spokesman Eric Mansfield said by phone Sunday from Mobile, AL, where he is with members of the university's football team and Kent State Athletics staff for the Golden Flashes' appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, two star players for the Stuebenville high football team, were charged in August with sexual assault, according to Steubenville city and police officials.
The New York Times reported that the charges stemmed from a night filled with parties attended by members of the football team at which the assault of the 16-year-old girl from West Virginia was witnessed — and captured in photos and video on cell phones — by other student athletes at Steubenville high.
Kent State officials posted a statement on the university's Facebook page Saturday following allegations made online about another Steubenville high school athlete who has been accepted to Kent State on a wrestling scholarship.
"University leaders are aware of the developing investigation in Steubenville, and we are gathering information from the proper authorities," the statement posted Saturday by Kent State officials said.
Mansfield said the university is now following the case in Steubenville closely to determine if some action should be taken regarding the student who has been accepted to Kent State.
"We understand the severity and the seriousness of the allegations, and as we collect more information we will take appropriate steps as warranted," he said. "We are now following the developments from Steubenville very closely."
The student whom Kent State officials are gathering information about is Charlie Keenan, a senior at Steubenville High School who has been a star athlete on the football field and wrestling mat.
Keenan has not been charged or identified as being directly involved by authorities investigating the sexual assault case.
Keenan won 40 matches in his junior year and was the first Steubenville wrestler to reach the state finals in 15 years, the Herald Star reported. Keenan played as a defensive tackle and center for the Big Red football team this past fall, according to the team's website, and made several key plays for the team in 2012 high school football state playoff action.
The Herald Star reported in November that Keenan planned to wrestle in the 197-pound class for Kent State.
"I was going on some visits and I ended up going to Kent," Keenan told the Herald Star. "I stayed with their team, spent the night, and I really liked the campus. It just felt like a home for me. They have a really good wrestling program, and it was just the best fit for me to go to college there."
Keenan was offered a wrestling scholarship and signed a letter of intent to compete for Kent State. He is scheduled to start classes as a freshman in the fall. Mansfield said he was unsure when Kent State offered the scholarship.
Mansfield stressed that Keenan officially is not yet a student and is still considered an applicant by the university.
"We understand why people are so concerned," Mansfield said. "We take a case like this extremely seriously, and it is the top prority of the university right now to get as much information on this as possible.
"With all the growing media reports and the concern we’ve seen from the Kent State community on Facebook, we wanted to let them know we are taking it seriously and gathering information," Mansfield said.
Posters on the university's Facebook page, which included reposted inaccurate information about the case, urged the university to revoke the scholarship in light of Keenan's connection to the Steubenville football team.
"If the kid getting a scholarship was not photographed or video-taped being involved in this situation, but ... somehow otherwise is implicated, the courts should first determine the guilt of the individual student before the university decides on revoking any scholarship possibilities," one person wrote.
Others posting on Kent State's Facebook page threatened to transfer if the university did not take action.
"If he does keep his scholarship, I refuse to continue attending such a school that finds this (OK)," another person wrote.