By Chad Courrier
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — The Mankato West football team must forfeit its first four victories of the season for using an ineligible player in those games, activities director Ken Essay said Monday.
Essay met with Minnesota State High School League officials Monday following a previously scheduled activities director’s meeting at Rochester.
“I made an incorrect ruling on the eligibility of a player, and because of that mistake, we will forfeit the first four games,” Essay said. “You hope when you make a mistake, that you’re the only one that gets hurt, but in this case, the coaches and the football team also get hurt.”
Essay said that data-privacy laws prevent him from identifying the player or discussing the details of the situation. Sources have said that the ineligible player is senior running back Trenton Marks, who transferred from Mankato Loyola before the season. Marks, the team’s leading rusher, did not play in Friday’s homecoming loss to Rochester John Marshall.
Essay said he met the coach Mark Esch, the assistants and the players before Monday’s practice to announce the decision.
“Coach Esch is one of the classiest people I know,” Essay said. “He was all about looking forward, not back. It’s hard to tell the players who have worked hard to win those four games, but I have no doubt they’ll meet this adversity and be stronger at the end.”
Esch said that his team was surprised by the news, but he expects his players to react the proper way.
“I said we can do one of two things,” Esch said. “You can run from it and not deal with it, or you can take it straight on, which is what we’re doing. This doesn’t change any of our goals.”
The forfeits mean that West is 0-5 heading into Friday’s game at Rochester Mayo. While it means that the team has no chance of winning the Big Nine Conference, it also could affect the seedings for the section tournament. In Section 2AAAAA, which has six teams, the top two teams will get first-round byes. With the victories, West would have likely been one of those top two teams.
“We’re prepared to go on the road and play an extra game,” Esch said.
Essay said another decision will be made Wednesday regarding the future eligibility of the player.