Ex-Spartan Player Surfaces, Denies Stalking Coach -- Roosevelt Wagner Says Voice On Tape Isn't His
RAVENNA, Ohio - Roosevelt Wagner camps out in a posh New York hotel, burning up the phone lines. Ring. It's ESPN calling. Ring. There's a Detroit radio station. Ring. Yet another newspaper.
Wagner, a former Michigan State University offensive lineman who reportedly admitted to a plot to kill Spartan Coach George Perles, has answers for everybody who's asking.
Except for the folks back in Ravenna, his little hometown near Akron.
His grandfather hasn't heard from him. One of his coaches at Ravenna High School is confused. Ditto for his buddies from the team.
"He don't check in with me," said his mother, Linda Sanders.
Most in Ravenna know only what they saw on the front page of the local newspaper: "Ex-Ravenna gridder stalked coach."
The allegations this week startled this town, where a little boy from a poor neighborhood worked hard enough to win a college scholarship and pull himself out of the pack of kids stuck in poverty.
Wagner earlier accused Michigan State of making numerous NCAA violations while he played there in 1988-91. Then the Detroit News reported that he hatched a plot two years ago for revenge against Perles, whom Wagner blamed for his failure to be drafted by an NFL team.
Wagner said that in April 1992 he loaded two handguns, hopped into his customized Jeep Grand Cherokee and tailed Perles for two days in East Lansing, planning to kidnap him and drop the body in the woods. He called it off after realizing it wasn't worth it.
The News said all of Wagner's statements were recorded on tape.
Relatives, friends and former neighbors in Ravenna have many questions for him: Would he really hatch such a plot? Why did he wait so long to make cheating allegations against his former school?
John Keegan, who helped coach Wagner in high school, said he "always thought Roosevelt was a pretty nice person."
Ella Sanders, an aunt, said of the plot: "I never heard him say that. Never in my life."
Wagner offered explanations yesterday from his hotel room in New York. He denied ever plotting to kill Perles and said he never told a reporter such a story. He said the voice on the tape-recorded interview is not his.
"I was nowhere around George's house," he said. "I don't know where George lives. I'm not stalking George."
Addressing the timing of his allegations, he said he only realized recently that the cheating at MSU was wrong. He said he is talking now in hopes that no other naive youngster would "have to endure the things I endured at MSU."
Folks in Ravenna, the ones who keep in contact with Wagner, would like to hear all those explanations personally.
"I don't know anything about his business, but he usually doesn't lie," said his grandfather, Adolphus Benedict.
To Benedict and others, the stories about him are a bitter climax to what they saw as a slow slide downhill for a young man who had seemed to be on a successful road just a few years ago.
Some have sympathy.
"When you take a young fellow out of this type of atmosphere and you turn him loose in the breadbasket of luxury, you kind of get rolled up in it," said Davis, the former neighbor.
John Jones, 28, who grew up near Wagner, said his friend was fond of telling half-truths to get a laugh.
"He'd fib a little," Jones said. "He'd say he was going out to catch up with some babes or something, and he'd be at home" instead.
When he was home from college, Wagner often tooled around Ravenna in his customized Jeep, a low-sitting Spartan-green model with golden rims and runners.
His grandfather and others said he bragged about money he was given at school.
Wagner told his friends and family after he left MSU that the Dallas Cowboys wanted him. He even shipped his beloved Jeep to Texas shortly before the NFL draft, his grandfather said.
On Draft Day in 1992, Benedict and other family members gathered to watch the proceedings on television in Ravenna, but the call never came.
Wagner was humiliated. He spoke of his anger at Perles. He thought the coach had held a grudge against him for leaving school early.
"He said he should have been drafted, and he felt this coach had put some kind of block on him," Benedict said. "He didn't say anything about stalking Perles. . . . But he did have a good anger toward the coach."
In the days after the draft, Wagner reportedly embarked on his assassination plot.
But yesterday, he tried to clear the air.
Wagner said he no longer is angry at Perles and hasn't been for some time. He said he was sorry the coach felt compelled to get a restraining order against him after stories about the plot were published.
"I owe George an apology as far as his family having to go through this tension," he said.
Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.