The Rise and Fall of Jeremiah Masoli (cont.)
"Off the field, Jeremiah's a real quiet guy," Oregon receiver Jeff Maehl said recently. "He keeps to himself."
The reticence of the face of the Ducks was due in some measure to the Samoan culture held dear by his family, which values silence over soundbites and helps explain the lack of in-depth profiles on Masoli. Five days after he led Oregon to its program-defining 47-20 victory over USC, the local newspaper in Eugene ran a story that referenced Masoli's "role in several strong-armed robberies" as a teen. Masoli's mother, Linda, and dozens of other readers complained online about the newspaper's disclosure of a sealed juvenile case, with Linda pointing out that the erroneous "several strong-armed robberies" line had been lifted from a previous story in the San Francisco Chronicle, which that paper had corrected.
The Eugene Register-Guard declined to publish a correction, instead asking Linda for the sealed juvenile records and an interview with Jeremiah to set the record straight. Linda replied via email: "We don't owe the [Register-Guard] any more explanation than we have already provided ..."
In April 2010 a cover story in the New York Times sports section noted that Masoli had been involved "in a series of robberies at a Bay Area shopping mall." The family also asked the Times to publish a correction, to no avail. By that time, though, Masoli's reputation was in tatters for another reason.
A key part of the Eugene Police Department's investigation into the SAE burglary was the security footage from Taylor's Bar & Grill, which showed Masoli and his 21-year-old cousin Tau Lefiti entering the bar approximately three minutes after Max Wolfard called the police.
There were no cameras on Masoli just prior to his arrival at Taylor's, however, a crucial window of time for which the police had four eyewitnesses.
The first witness is Lefiti, who like his cousin was less than honest with police following the burglary. The account he gave to SI.com, however, in a interview separate from his cousin's, mirrors Masoli's to the letter. Both Masoli and Lefiti recall that as they were approaching Taylor's that night in Masoli's car, they saw Embry standing outside the SAE house flagging them down. When Masoli slowed, "[Embry said] something like, 'Come check this party out with me,'" Masoli recalls. "And I said all right, and then I go park my car."
Masoli and his cousin decided that Masoli would size up the frat party while Lefiti peeked inside Taylor's. Then they would decide which scene was better.
Masoli says that he "walk[ed] behind Garrett to the SAE house," where Embry opened the same side door they would emerge from moments later. "We walk up this back stairwell," Masoli says, "and up like a flight of stairs or two and then there was this room just completely open." Masoli recalls loud music and a couple of drunk students sprawled in the hallway.
The second eyewitness, SAE member Trevor Bohne -- like Wolfard an avid fan of both the Ducks and Masoli -- said that he saw the quarterback in the hall with Embry around the time of the theft.
(In his interviews with police and SI.com, Bohne said he remembered seeing Masoli wearing a backpack that night. Wolfard also remembered Masoli wearing a backpack, although he did not mention one during his first interview with police, when he noted only that upon seeing Masoli in the stairwell "Masoli was wearing baggy clothing and the other items (the laptops and guitar) might have [been] taken before [Wolfard] saw them." Masoli and Lefiti denied that Masoli wore a backpack at any point that night. Video surveillance does not show him wearing one at Taylor's Bar & Grill.)
"And then Garrett goes in this room and comes out with a projector," Masoli continues.
It was a situation not unlike the one outside Hillsdale High on June 16, 2005. Something bad was happening -- what would Masoli do? Stay with his teammate, or walk away?
"Something about the situation told me to get out of there," Masoli said, "and I walked right in front of [Embry], didn't say one word to him, just walked right out of there."
Embry followed Masoli into the stairwell, the projector hidden behind his hip, where they encountered the third eyewitness, Wolfard.
The final witness, of course, is Embry, who seven weeks after the crime pleaded guilty alongside Masoli to second-degree burglary. Embry declined to speak with police during their investigation and turned down several requests made through both his attorney and his mother to be interviewed by SI.com.
Embry's attorney, Michael Buseman of Eugene, issued a written statement to SI.com which read, in part: "Rather than be in denial about who is responsible for the situation he is in, [Embry] has ... use[d] the experience as an opportunity to better himself ... I think many young individuals, both non-athletes and athletes alike, could learn a great deal from how he has addressed the situation."
Masoli was walking to class two days after the SAE theft when he got a call from Lefiti informing him that two Eugene police detectives were at his apartment and wanted to talk to him. During his 10-minute walk home Masoli was referred to a legal services hotline by a family member, and was put in touch with a Eugene-based defense attorney named John Kim, who after speaking with the detectives advised Masoli to give them a voluntary statement.
Masoli told the detectives that he and his cousin had driven to Taylor's Bar & Grill on Saturday night. That much was true. But he said "he was never at the fraternity house," which was not true.
"I asked Masoli if he was sure," wrote the detective, "and he maintained his statement of denial."
Asked about Embry, Masoli said, "I didn't see him at all."
Until the SAE burglary, Garrett Embry was best known as the Duck who'd been punched by his own teammate, LeGarrette Blount, during Blount's one-man riot following Oregon's season-opening loss to Boise State last September.
Embry caught a total of two passes for -4 yards in 2009. Some teammates recall him as a "stand-up guy" and a "good dude." Others say Embry partied too hard, studied too little, and was late to practices and meetings far too often. One Ducks player recalled Embry's father showing up to practice one day to watch his son, only to have Kelly walk over and ask if he knew where Garrett was. Embry's dad had no idea.
Masoli says he didn't know Embry well and didn't hang out with him. Other Ducks players vouch for this. The two had a class together, Military Science, and while they spoke from time to time in class, in the huddle, or in the locker room, that was the extent of their relationship.
According to the police report, in the hours leading up to the SAE burglary Embry was out on the town with his two roommates, Ducks defensive tackle Blake Ferras and Oregon student Alex Rosenberg. They first went to an SAE party at an off-campus apartment, where Embry scuffled briefly with party-goers and was kicked out. After that, the trio drove in Ferras' truck to the SAE fraternity house, where they joined a group of 10 or so students partying upstairs in one of the brothers' rooms, "[drinking] rum, listen[ing] to music and watch[ing] YouTube videos," according to the police report.
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