Posted: 12:00 pm Friday, April 12th, 2013
By Matt Porter
A late-night text message popped up on the quarterback’s cell phone.
This is Coach Socha, the message read. Please call me tomorrow about playing football at Oxbridge.
J.P. Caruso didn’t know what to think. Was he, a standout junior quarterback at Palm Beach Gardens High, receiving a recruiting pitch from the coach of the upstart Oxbridge Academy football program – at 2 a.m., no less?
The message was from the same number that called and hung up in the days before. Was an opposing high school football coach really trying to contact him at all hours?
No, he was not.
It was a prank from a player at Park Vista High, and it caused coaches and administrators from three schools — and even a private investigator – to conduct a swift search to clear a controversial figure’s name.
That man is Doug Socha, the former American Heritage coach entering his second year at Oxbridge, the West Palm Beach private school in its third year of operation. While Socha has been the subject of whispers about recruiting players, the FHSAA has never accused him of doing it. His former school, American Heritage, last November accused him of sending a fax containing its playbook and signals to its playoff opponent, Fort Lauderdale-University. Socha denied doing so.
The timeline for the prank goes like this: In early March, Caruso received text messages from an unfamiliar party claiming to be Socha. He informed a Gardens assistant coach of the messages, reassuring them that “obviously I’m not going to Oxbridge,” he said. Soon, Gardens principal Larry Clawson was on the phone with Oxbridge President and CEO Bob Parsons, who hired a local private investigator to determine the source of the mysterious recruiting pitch.
A few days later, Park Vista Athletic Director Pam Romero called a prominent member of the football team in her office, who explained his phone was stolen by a few teammates, who sent the messages to Caruso. Romero said she could not determine the sender of the text message, but said the player was “very apologetic” and left with an understanding of the consequences.
Socha, meanwhile, brushed off the controversy. He does know J.P. Caruso, whom he coached in middle school at American Heritage, but said he doesn’t have his phone number and would have no reason to contact him.
Oxbridge Academy Athletic Director Craig Sponsky said the incident made for an interesting morning, but it was over quickly.
“We found out in a couple hours what happened,” he said. “It made us feel good for two reasons: that our folks weren’t doing anything they weren’t supposed to be doing, and we were able to communicate to Palm Beach Gardens and Park Vista and let them handle it.”
Clawson said Parsons “handled [the incident] with 100 percent class.”
Palm Beach Gardens football coach Rob Freeman called it “silly.”
“I really don’t worry about what goes on at other schools,” he said. “I control what happens at Palm Beach Gardens. We have a good program. I worry about the kids who are supposed to be here.”