DALLAS — A Texas high school football coach directed two players to strike a referee during a game because of missed calls that had hurt the team, the players claimed Friday during a national broadcast.
During an appearance on ABC's "Good Morning, America," Michael Moreno and Victor Rojas also repeated earlier claims that the ref had used racial slurs.
Moreno said he regrets hitting Robert Watts and wants to apologize. Rojas said he was just doing what he was told.
The two were suspended from the Jay High School football team in San Antonio in the aftermath of the game early this month at Marble Falls. The Northside school district moved them to an alternative school as investigations into the matter continue.
Video from the Sept. 4 game shows Rojas blindsiding Watts and Moreno diving on top of him. Watts was the umpire on the defensive side watching a play along the line of scrimmage.
The players didn't name the coach Friday. The school district has suspended assistant coach Mack Breed pending an investigation. Attempts to find a phone number to contact Breed for comment were unsuccessful.
Rojas alleged that Watts at one point told a Hispanic player to "speak English, this is America." The soft-spoken Rojas said he couldn't explain why he targeted Watts, only saying he was following instructions.
Moreno contends the ref used a racial slur directed at a black player. The teenager also said at the last moment he realized the gravity of what he was about to do and softened his blow on Watts.
"That's not who I am," he said. "Underneath the helmet and the pads, I'm really a great kid."
Watts has denied using inappropriate language.
His attorney, New Jersey lawyer Alan Goldberger, told The Associated Press on Friday that the game video shows a crime was committed against Watts and now the perpetrators are blaming the victim for their actions.
"He didn't say hurtful things to anybody and he certainly didn't say racial epithets," Goldberger said, adding that civil action is being considered.
Watts has officiated nearly 500 football games over 14 years, but has stepped aside because he's now under a doctor's care for injuries inflicted by the players, Goldberger said.
"It's so typical that these accusations are made," he said. "It's always the referees fault."
David Warren, The Associated Press