Jawaan Griffin has been playing football since he was two years old. Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, his dream was to play in college.
“I love playing football. I’ve been playing for a while now, and I feel like I’ve got a lot to bring still, definitely bring to the program,” said Griffin.
His dream became a reality when he was recruited by South Forest Community Christian. The athletic director and head football coach, Pope Mitchell, reached out to Griffin and also recruited his high school teammate, Ramon Morrow-Finley.
“He showed us pictures and everything of the conference and who we play and everything,” said Morrow-Finley.
“Definitely a lot of travel. A lot of travel, a lot of exposure to different teams, different coaches, NFL,” said Griffin’s father, Walter Brown Jr.
The players were sold on the promises of this program and both came to the Star City to become Bobcats.
Broken promises start to come to light
Griffin and Morrow-Finley said they each paid a $500 deposit directly to Mitchell through PayPal. They were told that the deposit was for out-of-state players to reserve housing. The recruitment letter stated that money would pay for players’ hotel rooms since there are no dorms. But the two say that the game plan wasn’t executed.
“We sent the money back in May for the housing to be reserved. Ever since then, he blamed it on the school. Saying ‘the school is waiting on this, the school is waiting on that,’” Griffin explained.
Instead, they stayed at Mitchell’s house with two other players and Mitchell’s children. They shared videos of inside the home with 10 News.
“Lots of roaches and bugs,” added Griffin.
Griffin said he was in the home less than 48 hours before sharing the videos with his parents and telling them to come and get them. His parents put them up in a hotel in Roanoke until they could drive back from Missouri. 10 News spoke to them there, before they headed home.
“I said, ‘can you send me pictures, can you send me videos?’” said his mom, Alegria Brown. “Like, ‘tell me what’s going on?’ He sent me pictures and videos and that’s when it started going downhill.”
After seeing the state of the housing, Griffin’s parents took a deeper look into the South Forest Community Christian program.
“When all this started happening, it was bizarre. Some things that I had already thought previously, it was like, ‘OK, yeah this really doesn’t make sense now,” said Brown Jr.
That was just the beginning of exposing a program that players said wasn’t what it seemed.
The recruits said they quickly realized there were no athletic facilities, no home field, no plans for consistent housing and a lot of promises that didn’t check out.
Most games last year were played at Rivers Edge. But the players told 10 News that they were initially told they’d play at Salem Stadium. When they got to town, they said Mitchell told them they were going to play at William Fleming High School this upcoming season. A spokesperson with Roanoke City Schools said so far, there’s no approved contract to allow SFCC to play there this fall. The preseason practices have been held at Lucy Addison Middle School.
“At the collegiate level, you’re not supposed to be practicing at an elementary, middle school and all that. So I was really disappointed,” Morrow-Finley said.
After uncovering all this, 10 News reached out to Mitchell, who agreed to sit down for an interview.
“Did you know what your players were walking into when they came into your home?” 10 News asked him.
“No, I did not, because when they came into my home, that was not the situation. I was actually surprised myself when I got home to find that to be the situation. I went on vacation for four days, when I left, my home was in a good place,” Mitchell said.
Moving past the condition of his home, 10 News asked Mitchell what the program actually is, because the recruitment letter refers to it as a “JUCO,” or junior college.
“I’ve never stated, at any point, that we were a junior college. I’ve stated that we were a JUCO level athletic program in every documentation I have passed along to any student-athlete,” Mitchell added.
The letter also stated South Forest Community Christian is in partnership with Community Christian College, an online school based in California.
Brown called the college to inquire about her son’s academic status and CCC’s partnership with SFCC in Roanoke.
10 News asked Mitchell about his connection with the college as well as how he funds his program.
“The funding comes from the bodies and the academics. To be eligible for our program, you must take classes through CCC. So that’s where our funding comes from, is that once they have taken classes through CCC, then those funds for that person will be released to us athletically,” Mitchell explained.
10 News reached out to CCC in California and asked about their affiliation with South Forest Community Christian. The Vice President of Compliance at Community Christian College sent me this statement: “There is no partnership, athletic or otherwise, with the entity, corporation or business located in Roanoke, Virginia.”
In a separate statement, they told 10 News: “This person does not and has not ever received any money from CCC.”
10 News confronted Mitchell about these findings. You can find a portion of that interview below:
Alyssa Rae: “They’re saying they’re not affiliated, you’re saying you get paid through them. Why would they pay you if you’re not affiliated? Because they take academics?”
Pope Mitchell: “I did not say that I have been paid through them.”
Alyssa Rae: “Then where is your funding coming from?”
Pope Mitchell: “Ma’am. I think I’m done. I think I’m done.”
Mitchell then walked away from the interview.
Our 10 News investigation did not stop there. We looked deeper into those funds as well as more of the former players concerns in part two of this story. Tune in Thursday at 6 p.m. for that story.
Alyssa Rae and Patrick McKee contributed to this report.