St. George's surprised by forfeit fallout

The phone calls and interview requests began flooding in Monday morning to Eric Peterson's desk. And as of Friday, the St. George's Prep headmaster was still scratching his head.

"Not in my wildest nightmares -- and I'm still surprised now," Peterson said. "None of us had any notion this would happen, nor can we quite fathom why it's garnered as much attention as it has."

On Oct. 1, Peterson got together with the rest of the administration at the small preparatory school just outside of Newport, R.I., and they collectively decided it would be best to forfeit their Oct. 8 football game against Independent School League powerhouse Lawrence Academy.

Safety was the primary concern in the decision, Peterson said, and the Dragons feel as though they have a good case. After 6-foot-6, 280-pound St. George's sophomore Tyshon Henderson -- a raw project with upside but only four games of experience -- the size disparity drops off dramatically, including starting linemen who weigh in at 170 pounds. On top of that, the Dragons have just 28 healthy bodies -- none of whom are seriously considering any level of football beyond high school.

Lawrence boasts at least three starting offensive linemen over 300 pounds, including 330-pound Boston College commit Max Ricci. The Spartans also feature a backfield that's as talented as any school in the Northeast, led by NC State commit Anthony Knight and Iowa commits Mike Orloff and Marcus Grant.

Dragons head coach and athletic director John Mackay confirmed the forfeit to the Boston Herald on Monday, and with it the floodgates opened. Local news outlets rushed to pick up the story, and by Wednesday little St. George's was on the front page of Yahoo! Sports, most all of the attention turning negative.

"Honestly, I don't really know, it kind of doesn't make sense to me," said Peterson, a former football coach at Deerfield Academy. "At one point, the lead story on Yahoo! is Randy Moss being traded to the Vikings, and then right beneath it is a story about St. George's not playing. It's a regular-season football game between two small New England boarding schools."

Peterson wouldn't deny feelings were hurt by the decision, and took responsibilty for it, but added that the parents were "unanimous" in their support of the decision.

"Like any athlete, we want to compete, like any sane person," Peterson said. "This was going to be complicated. I've gotten a fair amount of blowback. 'Adversity builds character' -- yeah sure, that's true. But this was likely going to be something more than an underdog struggle."

Lawrence Academy coach Mike Taylor said his team was treating the forfeit as a bye week.

"For whatever reason they don't feel comfortable with what they've got," Taylor said, "but that's their business."

Mackay could not be reached for comment.

According to a league source, St. George's administration had been discussing what to do about this game since last spring, when they looked at their roster and saw the heaviest returning starter weighed 200 pounds. St. George's communications director Suzanne McGrady confirmed that, saying that this year's game has been a concern since immediately after the Spartans pounded the Dragons 48-15 last October.

Peterson, again, is shouldering the blame for the timing on the decision.

"I'll take responsibility for that," Peterson said. "While we certainly got it on the table [in the offseason], it never reached the point of resolution. We're getting flak for 'Why now?' and maybe this story doesn't catch flak if it's done before the season. But then you're likely to catch flak for prejudging the situation, judging the situation based on information that's eight or nine months old. Kind of a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation."