Their intentions on the now-viral video were clear: Two Texas high school football players targeted a game official. They’ve now admitted it.
First, Victor Rojas came from behind and tackled referee Robert Watts to the ground. A second player, Michael Moreno, dived in headfirst — leading with his helmet — and hit Watts again.
Moreno and Rojas, from John Jay High School in San Antonio, were ejected from the September 4 game against host Marble Falls High. They were suspended from school. No charges have been filed, but Marble Falls, Texas, police said they are investigating.
But were the football players just following orders? Yes, the teenagers told “Good Morning America” on Friday.
Referring to assistant coach Mack Breed, Moreno said, “While on the sideline, he pulled me and another player over and he told us, and I quote, ‘You need to hit him.’ ”
Moreno added that Breed said, “You need to hit the ref. He needs to pay the price.”
The other player wasn’t involved and ultimately didn’t go through with the alleged plan. Rojas said a player told him about the situation.
Breed is on paid administrative leave. The Northside Independent School District in San Antonio said the allegations against Breed are still under investigation. CNN has reached out to Breed for comment but has not heard back.
The reason Watts was targeted, Moreno said, was because of unjustified calls as well as “racial slurs being thrown at players” purportedly by the referee. Rojas said he heard Watts tell one of his Hispanic friends “to speak English, this is America.” Rojas and Moreno both allege they heard Watts call an African-American teammate the n-word.
Watts has denied saying these things and is considering legal action against the players.
“We’ve heard these allegations before, blaming the victim for the crime,” Watts’ attorney, Alan Goldberger, said on September 9. “That doesn’t have any credibility, and (Watts) is not happy about being falsely accused.”
Goldberger told CNN on Friday said it was clear that Watts did not make racial slurs.
“He did not make any racial epithets, and beyond that … if the referee made the remarks that that’s somehow justification that you can assault him?” Goldberger said.
“Because you don’t like the calls being made, it doesn’t give you the right to blindside him and viciously assault him.”
Goldberger had said earlier that Watts has been working high school and college football games for 14 years. He called the incident a “heinous and brutal assault” and said the referee is “lucky to be alive.” Goldberger said that Watts is “under medical care” but did not offer further details at that time.
On “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos asked Moreno, “You knew it was wrong, right?”
Moreno responded, “You put your trust into this, you know, grown-up, a guardian, your coach who’s been there since for me since my sophomore/freshman year and, you know, I trusted him. You know that he wants the best for me and I just do — did what I was told.”
Both teenagers expressed remorse in the “Good Morning America” interview.
“I would apologize for the mistake that I made,” Rojas said when asked what he would say to Watts if he saw him right now.
Moreno said that he’s ready to face the consequences and calls the incident one of his biggest regrets.
“I just ask that I am greatly sorry for this, and I regret it greatly,” Moreno said. “And I just hope that people can change their minds about us.”
Moreno also said he’s aspiring to be an aerospace engineer and school is his first priority.
“Everyone sees me as this thug, you know, or gangster, you know. I did this because I’m a bad guy — like that’s not who I am,” he said. “Underneath the helmet and the pads, you know, I’m really a great kid.”
The teens’ attorney, Jesse Hernandez, said he thinks his clients have endured enough punishment and should be able to return to school.
“I think they paid the appropriate punishment already,” Hernandez said. “They’ve suffered three days of suspension. They’ve been in alternative school for a week. They’re excluded from playing football for the rest of the season. I think that’s enough. They’ve apologized. They are very sorry. They didn’t mean to do this.”
The Northside Independent School District said the teens have been assigned to an alternative high school pending the results of a disciplinary hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. The school district said it is cooperating with Marble Falls police and is providing information the department requested.
By Jill Martin