Mother who provided affidavit, photograph: I didn't set out to get MSU in trouble

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The mother of a former five-star recruit whose home recruiting visit is the subject of NCAA-violation allegations against Michigan State football and Mark Dantonio said she was approached by attorneys and she did not personally seek to become involved in former MSU staffer Curtis Blackwell's wrongful termination lawsuit.

La Keshia Neal, the mother of current Notre Dame football player Daelin Hayes, recently signed the sworn affidavit and submitted photographic evidence that purports to show Dantonio was joined by Blackwell at a home visit in December 2015, despite Dantonio's under-oath deposition from January in which he said Blackwell wasn't allowed to recruit off-campus, nor did he ever recruit off-campus.

From left, Curtis Blackwell, Mark Dantonio. Daelin Hayes, Mike Tressel, and Harlon Barnett at Hayes' home taken in December 2015, according to a court affidavit.

Neal declined to answer specific questions when approached by The News on Wednesday, a day after her affidavit went public.

Her attorney, Erika D. Morgan, released a statement on her behalf Wednesday night, adding this would be Neal's only comments on the matter.

The statement read:

"Ms. Neal will not provide any additional statements than what she has already provided regarding this case. It is clear that her affidavit provided to the legal team for the plaintiff (Blackwell) has been reviewed and judged by the media and the court of public opinion. Ms. Neal was contacted by the plaintiff’s legal team regarding this case. She has not sought any attention on her own, and would like to be left alone regarding this case. However, it is Ms. Neal’s position that she has never contacted the newspaper, television networks or any media outlets regarding this story. To paint her in any light different than her truthful statements regarding this incident, is unfounded. Ms. Neal would like to have privacy for herself and her family at this time as this matter does not concern Ms. Neal exclusively. Ms. Neal does not have any pending matters against Michigan State or any of its affiliates."

Dantonio, through a filing by his attorneys late Tuesday, said he didn't remember that specific home visit, nor would he have authorized Blackwell to be there. Only a certain number of assistant coaches are allowed to recruit off-campus, per the NCAA, and Blackwell, as a non-field staff member, wasn't one of them.

Previously, Dantonio's attorneys called the NCAA allegations "false" and "scandolous," and athletic director Bill Beekman immediately called them "patently false" when the accusations were made this month.

Blackwell, in the filing this month, also alleged Dantonio helped coordinate employment for the parents of high-profile recruits. Dantonio said any employment coordination was done with the compliance department's approval; Jen Smith, MSU's compliance director, said in her deposition she didn't recall any such employment agreements coordinated by Dantonio or Blackwell.

MSU acknowledged Tuesday that it is investigating the claims, and has been in contact with the NCAA and the Big Ten.

Experts say the incidents, if proven, by themselves aren't considered major infractions, but if lumped together, and if the NCAA finds anything else, they could be considered more significant.

Blackwell, who was hired by MSU in 2013 because of his work as co-founder of the popular Detroit-based Sound Mind Sound Body football camps, had met Hayes and his mother before that recruiting visit in 2015, but the extent of the relationship between the parties is unclear. Blackwell declined to comment on the history of his relationship with the family when contacted by The News on Wednesday. Through SMSB, he is close to many Detroit area athletes and their families.

Blackwell, through his lawyers, also declined to say whether he traveled to the Belleville home visit with Dantonio, or whether he traveled to their home separately.

Dantonio has said Blackwell occasionally would drive him to house or school visits, but would remain in the car.

Also at that December house visit, at which Neal made breakfast, was current MSU assistant Mike Tressel and then-MSU assistant Harlon Barnett, who is under consideration to join new football coach Mel Tucker's staff.

Hayes, who attended Ann Arbor Skyline High School, committed to Notre Dame just three days after the MSU home visit. He is entering his senior year.

Notre Dame athletic department officials, when asked by The News if Hayes had any comment or if the school might be inclined to forward the home-visit allegations on to the NCAA as a precaution, said: "Notre Dame does not comment on NCAA investigations involving other institutions."

Hayes, a former Ann Arbor Skyline star who once was a member of The Detroit News Blue Chip List, suffered a torn labrum early in the 2019 season, and missed the rest of the year. He is expected to be back in 2020 for his final season of eligibility.

Laywers for Blackwell — suing Dantonio, former athletic director Mark Hollis and former president Lou Anna K. Simon for wrongful termination after his May 2017 dismissal — have argued the NCAA-violation allegations are pertinent to the case because they speak to Dantonio's credibility, or lack thereof. Attorneys for Dantonio disagree, and have called for the case to be dismissed.

A federal judge is expected to rule by week's end whether alleged unethical behavior by Blackwell's attorneys — which was enough to convince high-profile attorney Tom Mars to leave Blackwell's legal team, only a week after joining — is enough to toss the case, or whether it will continue with a trial sometime this spring or early summer.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984