Story By KEITH SHARON and FRANK MICKADEIT/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Four months before the world heard about the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal, two Pop Warner football coaches in Tustin began offering cash to their 10- and 11-year-old players for making big hits and knocking opponents out of games, according to an assistant coach, a parent, interviews with players and signed statements by two players.
Tustin Red Cobras head coach Darren Crawford and assistant coach Richard Bowman, whose powerhouse squad went undefeated during the 2011 regular season, told their team to target specific players on the youth football teams from Yorba Linda, Santa Margarita and San Bernardino, said then-assistant coach John Zanelli and three players interviewed by the Register.
All the other coaches and Tustin Pop Warner league officials deny a bounty program took place. Crawford said they did target opposing players but never told their team to injure them and never offered any payment for hitting or injuring them.
One of the targeted players, an 11-year-old running back from the Santa Margarita Stallions, suffered a concussion after he was hit by a Red Cobras player in the Pop Warner Orange Bowl last November. The player who delivered the hit was paid by Crawford after the game, Zanelli said.
The Register is not naming any of the players because of their ages.
Tustin league president Pat Galentine, who was an assistant coach for the 2011 Red Cobras, emphatically denied any mention of money by Crawford or Bowman.
"At no time was a bounty program ever discussed or was there an exchange of money for anything," Galentine said.
However, the parent of one of the Red Cobras players said money was paid to his son after the playoff game against Yorba Linda.
"My son said he had won the prize," said the father, whose name is not being used to protect the identity of his son. "He had a good, clean hit. The kids voted his play as the play of the game. He showed me one $20 bill. He said the coaches, plural, gave it to him." Read more at The Orange County Register.