Illegal Use of the Hands : Markland Defensive Over Fight-Marred '85 at Illinois

Times Staff Writer

As a linebacker at the University of Illinois, Jeff Markland is expected to knock down anybody who gets in his way. As a student at the University of Illinois, he is expected to avoid such mayhem.

So, when Markland got his roles reversed last March 8, he found himself in big trouble.

The former Pierce College All-American faced two felony charges of aggravated battery and two misdemeanor battery charges for allegedly precipitating an early morning brawl at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in Champaign, Ill.

Markland, 20, later admitted injuring a student and was sentenced to six weekends in the Champaign County Jail. In exchange for Markland's guilty plea to a charge of misdemeanor battery, prosecutors dismissed the two felony charges and a misdemeanor charge.

This fall, Markland is back in class--and back in good graces with his coaches.

He served his time in jail and met the added demands of Illinois Coach Mike White, which included weekend running, community service without pay and loss of a spring-break vacation.

A fullback at Burroughs High in Burbank and a tight end at Pierce, Markland was moved last spring to defense, where White expects the 6-4, 246-pound junior to join the likes of Hall of Famer Dick Butkus and become one of the best linebackers in the school's history.

After two games, including the Illini's 31-16 loss to USC on Saturday at the Coliseum, Markland is the team's No. 4 tackler.

He said he has put the incident behind him.

Still, six months after the brawl at Phi Kappa Psi, bad blood exists between Markland and the fraternity house.

"I was abused by the press and the public," Markland said, "and also by the court system. I was used as an example."

But Jack O'Grady, who was president of the fraternity last spring, said Markland has been treated more than fairly.

O'Grady said the press has made light of the incident in recent articles and has portrayed Markland as "some kind of folk hero."

Quoted about his part in the fight in last Friday's Chicago Sun-Times, Markland said: "There are some people who believe that I went into a room and beat the crap out of four or five guys by myself. They're making me out to be a combination of Rambo and Bruce Lee or something. I'm not."

Headline on the article: "Illini's Rambo Finds His Niche."

According to the Illinois football media guide, Markland "enjoys relaxing outdoors and Frisbee on the beach."

But it would be difficult for anybody at Phi Kappa Psi to buy the image of Markland as a laid-back Californian.

O'Grady said a "closed" party was in progress at the house in the early morning hours of March 8 when he saw Markland "and about four others" looking into a bedroom window at the back of the house. O'Grady said the house, centrally situated between campus dormitories and several popular bars, is often the target of party crashers.

After asking them to leave, O'Grady said Markland threatened him. O'Grady went back inside the house, then returned with four other fraternity members, he said.

More words were exchanged, O'Grady said, before Markland threw a punch and a brawl ensued. "It was five on five," O'Grady said.

O'Grady said that Markland, after having his shirt ripped, threatened to return with other football players. "You're all dead," O'Grady said Markland told the fraternity members.

According to Markland, O'Grady came outside and "started hassling me--like he's a tough guy. . . . We got in a little argument and he went and got about 15 of his friends and they jumped on me and a couple of my friends.

"They were just being jerks. They were provoking me and taunting me."

When he left, Markland said he was "beat up."

He returned to the frat house about 30 minutes later with about seven teammates.

O'Grady said they forced their way into the house, where Markland "jumped onto a table and started punching people."

Eight players eventually were disciplined by White for their part in the ensuing brawl.

But only Markland and Michael Scully faced criminal charges. The charges against Scully were later dismissed.

Markland allegedly punched two men and kicked a third, Karl Kaufman, in the face. Kaufman suffered inner-ear damage and had two of his teeth broken. Markland was later ordered by the court to pay Kaufman's medical expenses, which totaled $733.

O'Grady said that Kaufman was not involved in the fight.

"Somebody pushed him and as he was falling to the ground, Markland kicked him in the mouth," O'Grady said. "It was like a drop kick."

Markland said he didn't mean to hit Kaufman. "He jumped in the middle of it and got hit on accident," Markland said.

Markland also said he didn't go back to the party with the intent of beating anybody up.

"I don't know if it was pride, or what it was," he said. "I didn't go back saying, 'You shouldn't have done that to me, so we're going to beat your ass.' It wasn't like that, but we went in there and some of my friends were mad and we got into a fight."

O'Grady, who said this was the third straight year that football players had tried to crash a party at Phi Kappa Psi, pressured the Champaign County state's attorney's office to pursue the charges against Markland.

The university subcommittee on undergraduate discipline ruled in April that Markland would be permitted to play football this fall, but would be on conduct probation for the remainder of his time at Illinois and suspended from summer classes. The punishment did not satisfy O'Grady. He told the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette:

"This happens every single spring. We get beat up and the university gives them a slap on the wrist and a bad letter in their dossiers. If the university won't do something to get them off our back, we're going to the state's attorney."

On June 20, Markland began serving his jail sentence.

For six weeks, he reported at 6 p.m. each Friday to a dormitory-like room with about 10 others, most of whom had been sentenced to weekend terms for traffic violations. Everybody ate, slept and watched television in the same room. At 6 p.m. each Sunday, Markland was released.

It may not have been the most severe sentence he might have received, but Markland said he was "embarrassed" to go to jail each week. He worked during the week at a Boy Scout camp, but the idea of going back to jail each weekend dominated his thoughts.

"I don't think I belonged there," he said, "but I'll never make that mistake again. I've paid the price and I know what it's like to sit in jail. I definitely don't like it."

In addition to all the other things he has had to deal with in the past six months, Markland also has had to adjust to a new position.

For 11 years, ever since he was a fifth-grader in Burbank, he was an offensive player. Two years ago, Pierce built its offense around him and he caught 48 passes in 11 games. Pierce was ranked No. 1 in the nation for several weeks and was 10-0 before losing to Taft in the Potato Bowl.

Markland transfered to Illinois because of White's reputation as a passing coach, but a shoulder injury forced him to redshirt last season.

Illinois is loaded with tight ends, so the coaches, believing he was too good an athlete to keep on the bench, asked Markland last spring to move to linebacker.

He was an instant success, making eight tackles and two interceptions in the Illini's spring game.

White predicted big things for him.

Loren Tate, sports editor of the Champaign-Urbana News Gazette, called him "the Robert Redford natural" at linebacker. "It's a natural position for him," Tate said. "He's incredible. He's a future pro."

Markland continued to impress everybody in fall practice, but then the season started and Markland didn't feel as comfortable in his new position.

In two games, he has 15 tackles, including a sack, and a fumble recovery.

"I've been doing OK," he said. "Nothing spectacular."

Playing defense, he said, requires more concentration than offense.

"You just have to be ready to get hit all the time," he said. "You've got to be intense. You have to play with aggression. You can't go out there lazy and expect to do good--you're going to get nailed. You're going to get pushed around.

"That's just something I've got to get used to. You have to have an attitude, I guess is what it is."

Markland said his disappointing play concerns him.

"I'm getting down in some ways," he said. "But I'm going to make it through. I'm just going to work hard."

He knows as well as anyone that things could be a lot worse.

And while he is still bitter about his troubles at Phi Kappa Psi, Markland said he doesn't regret going to Illinois.

"I believe that you get yourself in your own situations, so trouble could happen anywhere," he said. "You can't say, 'Just because I went to Illinois, I got into trouble.'

"I guess I was just made an example of because there had been problems before. Finally, they had to say, 'This isn't going to happen. People aren't going to get away with it like they have before.' "

Markland said he learned from the experience.

"I think it helped me grow up," he said. "It made me realize what's important and what's not, and what I should be doing with my time."

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