Blake, players talked

Ex-UNC coach had contact while Austin, Thomas were on trip.

Staff WriterJune 17, 2011 

Former University of North Carolina assistant coach John Blake was in communication with UNC football players Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas during their trip to a training facility in California before the 2009 season.

Cellphone records obtained following a court ruling in a lawsuit filed against the university by The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and other news organizations, also show that Blake, head coach Butch Davis' top recruiter for three and a half years, used a university-paid number to contact (phone calls or texts) numbers associated with NFL agent Gary Wichard and Davis during the players' visit.

In addition, the phone records show that Blake contacted numbers linked to Austin and Wichard during the NCAA investigators' initial visit to campus last July.

Although it is unclear whether Blake knew the players were training in California with former UNC teammate Kentwan Balmer, the phone records indicate that Blake and Austin were in contact while Austin was there. Had Blake or anyone else at UNC learned the players were with Balmer in California, it would have been necessary to have North Carolina's compliance office investigate whether the trip was permissible before the 2009 season.

The records indicate Blake, who resigned one game into the 2010 season amid the NCAA investigation into whether players accepted improper benefits, visited the same California city where Wichard's agency, Pro Tect Management, was located, as well as the site of the training facility, before the players made the trip.

A busy caller

According to the phone records, Blake made calls or texts from Westlake Village, Calif.; Thousand Oaks, Calif.; Los Angeles and more than 20 other California cities between June 28 and July 11 in 2009.

Thomas and Austin have said they went to the Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, Calif. - where dozens of Wichard's clients have trained - before the start of UNC's training camp in August 2009.

A hotel receipt obtained by Yahoo! Sports, which financially links Austin to Wichard's agency, shows the dates of the players' stay in California as July 23 to Aug. 1.

Between July 20 and Aug. 3, Blake's phone records show that there were 20 calls or texts to Wichard's cellphone, 10 to Austin's and eight to Thomas'.

Blake was also in contact with Davis twice on July 28.

Austin said in a March 2011 interview that no one at UNC knew about the trip to California. The trip came under scrutiny during the NCAA investigation into whether players received preferential treatment, benefits or services.

"They had no reason to know," Austin said of the trip at UNC's pro day before the NFL draft on March 31. "I didn't think I had to call the university and say, 'Well, I'm going to California to go train.'"

Blake, Thomas, Austin, Davis and UNC athletic director Dick Baddour did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Both Thomas and Austin played in all 13 games in 2009. Thomas, a fifth-round pick of the San Diego Chargers, completed his rookie season in the NFL in 2010.

Austin was dismissed from the team for the 2010 season for receiving benefits that Baddour estimated at between $10,000 and $13,000. Seven UNC players missed the entire season, and 14 missed at least one game as a result of the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct.

When the NCAA first sent investigators to campus on July 12 for interviews with players, Blake's phone communication with Wichard and Austin increased.

There was an 8-minute call to Wichard's cell on July 10 and a 31-minute call with Austin's number on July 12. The call to Austin was followed by four calls with Wichard's cell, the last of which ended at 12:02 a.m.

Twelve hours later, Blake received a call from Davis' cell, which was proceeded by a 13-minute call to Austin's phone.

Blake and Wichard had four more calls in July and one on Aug. 12, which was the last call from Blake's cell to Wichard's on the records.

Wichard, who was eventually suspended by the NFL, died in March. Austin was drafted by the New York Giants in April.

UNC received a notice of inquiry from the NCAA on June 7 but is still awaiting a ruling from the NCAA for possible punishments in connection with the investigation.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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