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For the past four years, Ben Moffitt has been a standout linebacker for USF's football team, celebrated just as much as a father and husband. It was a heartwarming story. But for nearly the last two months, it’s been a much different story.
By Greg Auman
Published January 3, 2008
[Chris Zuppa | Times (2005)]
TAMPA -- For the past four years, Ben Moffitt has been a standout linebacker for USF's football team, celebrated just as much as a father and husband, a family man who made a daily 55-mile commute from campus to be with his family.
It was a heartwarming story, told everywhere from local papers to ESPN to the New York Times. But for nearly the last two months, it’s been a much different story.
Shauna Moffitt said Thursday that her husband left her with their two children, ages 5 and 3, on Nov. 11 – the day after the Bulls won at Syracuse -- and has had limited contact with them since. Throughout his time at USF, his scholarship checks have helped pay for the rent or mortgage, but since leaving, Moffitt has not done anything to support his family financially, she said.
"He is living a lie," she said. "He’s lying to everyone. He’s not helping (us) with anything." Their marriage of five years has deteriorated to the point that Shauna, 26, made public Thursday a larger allegation, saying that she had taken multiple online courses for her husband and written papers for his college classes to keep him eligible to play football.
"I have written every single paper he has ever written in five years at USF," said Shauna, who works as a data specialist in the Sumter County Appraiser's Office.
As of 3 p.m. Thursday, USF officials had not responded to questions seeking comment on the academic allegations.
Moffitt, reached by phone Thursday afternoon, said it is "very unfortunate" that the matter had been made public but declined further comment, referring questions to Tavares divorce attorney A.J. Rohe. Rohe said divorce papers would be filed later Thursday in Sumter County.
"It’s our position that it’s harmful to the children when this personal stuff is aired in the papers," said Rohe, who was retained by Moffitt on Thursday. "We’re disappointed that she would choose to do something in an attempt to damage his reputation and his potential for future earnings."
Moffitt’s wife and children were noticeably absent on the field at Raymond James Stadium when USF's seniors were honored before their final home game. A week later, when questioned after USF's football game at Pittsburgh in late November, Moffitt said the relationship was fine. Asked why he wasn't wearing his wedding ring, he said it was in his pocket, that he didn't wear it during games.
Moffitt’s family is well-known to Bulls fans; Shauna was interviewed on ESPNU during USF's football game at Florida Atlantic this season, and Ben has brought his 5-year-old son along with him for postgame news conferences.
USF has marketed Moffitt, 23, as a family man, touting him for national awards with the phrase "Linebacker. Leader. Husband. Father."
Moffitt, who started 43 games at USF, was a quarterfinalist for the Lott Trophy, which considers off-field contributions in addition to football accomplishments. Moffitt has continued to perpetuate the feel-good story that USF has promoted. Just last week, as the Bulls prepared for the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, Moffitt was interviewed about his family life by The Register-Guard, a newspaper in Oregon.
"It’s a weird balance," Moffitt told the newspaper, more than six weeks after he had left the family’s Bushnell home. "It can be hard, but it also just comes with the territory I guess, and it’s been working out."
Not exactly. After their initial separation, Shauna said Ben visited their two children twice a week, but that stopped after a month. She said she does not know where he is living, and he has changed his cellphone, initially only calling from a blocked number before later giving her the number.
Moffitt finished his USF career Monday with 331 total tackles, the second-highest mark in Bulls history behind Kawika Mitchell, who had 367 from 1999-2002. Moffitt is projected a mid-round pick in April's NFL Draft, rated by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. as the fourth-best inside linebacker in this year's class.
[Last modified January 3, 2008, 17:28:54]