In wake of arrests, Brian Kelly lauds Notre Dame's drug testing policy

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly would like to think all the “what-ifs” really didn’t matter.

Specifically, what if the tail light on the 2007 Ford Focus, driven by Notre Dame football player Ashton White and carrying four of his teammates, had been functional and that the car wasn’t allegedly cruising at 13 miles over the posted speed limit on U.S. 31 roughly 45 miles south of campus on the night of Aug. 19.

“We have a very rigorous drug-testing policy,” the Notre Dame head football coach said during his regular Tuesday press conference to advance Sunday night’s season opener between the 10th-ranked Irish and host Texas.

“I've been at four schools, and I believe our policy is as stringent. And when I say ‘stringent,’ I mean we are on top of it on a day-to-day basis.”

Cornerback White, linebacker Te’von Coney, wide receiver Kevin Stepherson and running back Dexter Williams — all underclassmen and all reserves, though some of them key ones — were subsequently each charged with a single misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana after being pulled over by state police.

Starting free safety Max Redfield, a senior, was charged with carrying a handgun without a license in addition to a marijuana possession charge. He was dismissed from the team by Kelly on Aug. 21.

“Max was charged with the possession of a handgun,” Kelly said when asked why the four others remained with the team. “That changed the whole situation. And that's what caused the dismissal — and as an upperclassman not really living up to the standards that I set.”

Judge Wayne E. Steele on Tuesday entered not-guilty pleas in Fulton County on behalf of Coney, Redfield and Stepherson, who appeared in court. White and Williams filed motions to waive their initial hearings.

Injured senior cornerback Devin Butler remained indefinitely suspended for a separate incident — the same night, in South Bend — that resulted in two felony charges against him, resisting law enforcement and battery of a police officer. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

The four other players remain in play to see the field Sunday night against the Longhorns, but Kelly said Notre Dame’s disciplinary arm — the Office of Community Standards — will have the final word. What isn’t known is whether it will review the four players’ cases before Sunday’s game.

“The university will work their process, and we'll continue to move forward,” Kelly said. “There's no deadline, per se. But we kind of work as if they're going to play. And if something changes, the university will let us know.

“We have great lines of communication with the office.”

Had Notre Dame’s drug-testing snagged the players instead of the police, their infractions and subsequent consequences may never have come to light.

“I've never suspended a player for a game for a first offense in this instance,” Kelly said of the marijuana possession charges.

Kelly said the football program’s drug-testing policy piggybacks the NCAA’s. In recent years, Notre Dame had urine screenings for its football players twice a season.

Also, per ND officials, a majority of the athletes on campus in all sports are summoned throughout the school year to give hair samples that will be tested for street drugs.

“I think all drug-testing programs need to be educational first,” Kelly said. “And if you find as though that is not changing somebody through counseling and education, then I believe there needs to be a punitive component.”

“I think we've done a great job with our drug testing policy.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI