Student-athletes cry foul over pop-up religious college in Florida

National and World

POINCIANA, Fla. (WFLA) — They came to Poinciana, Florida, with dreams of gaining college credit and improving their grades at brand new St. Sebastian Elite College while also improving their highlight reels to earn a shot with a bigger football program.

But there were red flags long before the team played its first and only game in September, according to 20-year-old Carteyae Gordon, of Lansing, Michigan.

“We only had 17 players. We were sharing helmets. We didn’t have a trainer,” Gordon recalled. “We got suspicious when for our first game, we didn’t have any refs. Our coaches reffed our game. It was just horrible.”

Even without a campus, a verification letter accepted in May by the Florida Department of Education indicates St. Sebastian met state requirements as a religious institution “and is not subject to governmental oversight” through May 31, 2022.

(WFLA)

Gordon and several other former St. Sebastian recruits say Coach DeMarcus Lattier “sold the college well” as a program that would help further their college careers.

“He promised us he would help us get to different colleges. Basically, get us some exposure,” Gordon said. “He would help us get better. “

Daniel Abdul, 21, of Saint Petersburg, Florida, said he started asking questions when there was a shortage of players at the first practice.

“I’m like, ‘Coach, is this it?'” Abdul said. “He said we’d have plenty. He said the others were coming, the others were coming.”

They never came, and within days of the first kickoff, the Fighting Foxes’ football season was over.

Then, according to Abdul, access to course work was frozen for some students who received emails from professors claiming “no one has received a paycheck.” Abdul said around that time, he was pressured to make a tuition payment.

“I gave him cash – $1,000, all hundreds,” Abdul said. “[I gave it to] coach himself.”

Lattier did not deny taking Abdul’s cash.

“We take all forms of payment,” Lattier said. “We don’t have financial aid because you have to be accredited.”

(WFLA)

According to St. Sebastian Vice President of Academic Affairs Lovella Jones, the accreditation process is underway. Jones would not disclose how many students are enrolled.

Another issue involved what was listed as St. Sebastian’s physical address: 445 Marigold Avenue is the same address as Poinciana Community Center.

But in an email, center operations manager Eldonia Gonzalez said St. Sebastian “should not be using our address.”

“They are not renting our facility,” Gonzalez said.

The address has since been removed from the St. Sebastian website.

Gordon has filed a complaint with the DOE Commission on Independent Education, but in an email, spokesperson Brett Tubbs said the commission “lacks jurisdiction” over the college.

“A student would have to seek private enforcement,” Tubbs said.

Gordon has not said whether he will file a civil complaint against St. Sebastian.

Lattier emphasized that he was “100%” honest with the recruits.

“We have players that weren’t happy, and I wish those young men the best,” Lattier said. “It’s not just about football. We want to continue trying to help. Continue trying to give opportunities to young men and women who need it.”

Lattier and Jones said they believe there will be an actual campus and football program in the future, but they did not offer a timeline.

“These things take time,” Lattier said.

Gordon and the other players who left the program said they lost money and time and are now trying to figure out where to go next.

Keewone Parker, 20, of Lansing, Michigan, said he is waiting for a call.

“That’s what I have to do,” Parker said. “I feel embarrassed by this. My parents questioned it, but I bit. Now I’m waiting to play somewhere else.”

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