Assistant head football coach Sanford Lee Rodgers didn't like what he was seeing during practice on the hot afternoon of August 14 at Scottsdale Community College.

Running back Jamie Warren and defensive lineman Curtis Robinson were arguing and fighting, disrupting the practice.

Rodgers already had a beef with Warren -- he had tossed him off the team earlier in the month. But the 185-pound speedster from Dallas, Texas, was reinstated by head coach Ken Giovando and was battling for a starting slot in the SCC backfield.

As punishment for fighting, Rodgers ordered Warren and the 280-pound Robinson to line up across from each other, with Warren running the ball directly at Robinson in a grueling one-on-one drill. Time after time, Robinson wrapped up Warren and slammed him to the ground. The young men repeated the drill about a dozen times.

Finally, Robinson was given a break and headed to the sidelines for water.

But Rodgers had more planned for Warren.

Warren was ordered to line up behind an offensive lineman, who squared off against a defensive lineman. The object of the drill was for Warren to read which way the offensive lineman was blocking the defender, then cut in the other direction.

But as is often the case in football, the plans and execution didn't jibe. The defensive lineman shoved the offensive lineman straight back, right into Warren's path.

"When I broke, the defensive lineman went that way, too," Warren says in a recent interview. "And the offensive lineman, I bumped into him, like my arm bumped into him."

Warren's brush against the offensive lineman infuriated Rodgers, SCC players say.

"So coach Rodgers goes like, 'You don't bump into a player's back, you don't bump into a player's back,'" recounts Warren.

Such collisions between a running back and one of his blockers are not uncommon and are generally tolerated as incidental contact.

But on this day, with this player, Rodgers apparently wanted to make a statement.

"So he says, 'Jamie, you go be the offensive lineman, you block the "D" lineman,'" Warren says.

Rodgers then ordered Don Pitt, the 270-pound offensive lineman whom Warren had bumped, to take Warren's position as the running back.

"'You be the running back and just run right up his back,'" Rodgers yelled to Pitt, according to Warren's account.

Exhausted from the earlier drill with Robinson, Warren was an easy target. A fresh defensive lineman with a 100-pound advantage slammed into Warren, forcing him into a standing position.

Pitt, a freshman from Greenfield, Tennessee, charged toward Warren, lowered his helmet and slammed its crown into Warren's lower back, just to the right of his spine.

Several people who saw the play say the hit was a type outlawed in football called a spear. Spearing is dangerous, not only to the person receiving the helmet blow, but also because the player inflicting the hit could suffer serious neck injury.

As Pitt's helmet crashed into Warren's spine-protection pad, Warren's back snapped back, then he whiplashed forward, smashing his face to the ground. The impact was so great, Warren's head slammed against a dislodged chin strap, giving him a black eye.

Though Warren was bent over, his back injured, ankle twisted and face bruised, Rodgers wanted more. He ordered Warren to run several plays a few minutes later. Warren's wobbly effort garnered a reprimand from head coach Giovando.

The drill finally stopped when another assistant coach checked out Warren and told Giovando that the player appeared to be hurt.

The brutality of the drill stunned many of those watching the practice.

"A lot of teammates didn't think that was right," says one player who was at the practice.

"I ain't never seen anything like that in my life," says another former player who saw the incident.

Other players and staff members who observed the incident refuse to comment on the record because they fear retribution from the football coaches. But privately, sources tell New Times that the incident was among the most flagrant fouls they had ever seen on a football field -- and certainly the most egregious ever encouraged by a coach.

While none of the witnesses heard Rodgers order the spear, they say they believe Rodgers wanted Warren punished.

Warren's days as a member of the SCC Artichokes football team are over. He says he hasn't gone back to practice, and it took the college nearly two weeks to line up an appointment with an off-campus doctor. He's now receiving physical therapy for bruises and a strained lower back. He says the injury could have been far worse if he hadn't been wearing the spine protection pad, which he and others say was damaged by Pitt's helmet. (The whereabouts of the damaged pad are unknown.)

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty