Assault and battery charges filed against Nebraska football player

Friday, November 19th 2004, 6:43 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Prosecutors filed an aggravated assault and battery charge against a University of Nebraska football player Friday for injuring a member of a University of Oklahoma spirit group member before a game last week.

An arrest warrant was issued for Darren DeLone, who is accused of driving his helmet into the face of student Adam Merritt, the Cleveland County district attorney's office said. The charge against DeLone carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Nebraska spokeswoman Chris Anderson said the university would have no comment.

Merritt, a member of the spirit group, Ruf/Neks, lost two teeth in the encounter.

The University of Oklahoma Police Department recommended prosecution of DeLone and a second Nebraska player, Wali Muhammad, but Cleveland County District Attorney Tim Kuykendall said there was not enough evidence to file charges against Muhammad.

Members of the Ruf/Neks spirit group were in their usual position near the north end zone of Owen Field when the incident occurred. Students in the group typically shoot pop guns and heckle opposing teams.

Kuykendall said numerous witnesses reported that DeLone pointed to the Ruf/Neks and ran his thumb across his throat in a threatening motion before he and Muhammad executed a drill that caused them to run toward the group.

"DeLone hit the victim 12 feet outside the playing field with such force that it sent Merritt back into a brick retaining wall and metal gate," Kuykendall said. "It knocked him about 8 feet, resulting in his injuries."

Merritt, 19, was in and out of consciousness after the blow and had a concussion. He was treated and released from Norman Regional Hospital.

Monday, during a Big 12 teleconference, Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said he felt "really, really terrible" about the incident. But he said the Ruf/Nek's position near the end zone made an incident almost inevitable.

"I have a lot of empathy for the young man who got injured," Callahan said. "But the safety for those young kids is vital. And for somebody of game management or athletic administration not to realize that -- it's astounding to me that these kids can be right in the midst of a warm-up between these 300 pounds-plus linemen."

Merritt's injuries required the insertion of a metal rod into his mouth, and he was scheduled for oral surgery.

DeLone, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior, was not detained by campus police after the incident. DeLone played in last week's game, which Nebraska lost 30-3.

This is the second time in a little more than a year that a Nebraska player has been accused of an on-field altercation with a fan.

Nebraska player Kellen Houston served a one-game suspension and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disturbance of the peace after hitting Missouri fan Matthew Scott after a game at Faurot Field in Columbia last October.