The Rise Football Academy wanted to put itself in the national spotlight, emphasizing select 7-on-7 and increasing its specialized training business among youth football players by 200 percent in two years.
Now it’s in the midst of rebranding, fixing broken relationships and a legal battle with the former face of its football operations.
Johnny DuRocher, the former Bethel, University of Oregon and University of Washington quarterback, has taken over as Rise’s director of football. He has emphasized rebuilding its image with high school coaches and touting team training over individual workouts and select 7-on-7.
“The whole (offseason training industry) thing has gotten out of control in our opinion,” DuRocher said. “What we want to do is bridge the gap between offseason training and the time that high school coaches can coach their players. It’s nothing more than that.”
Meanwhile, Rise’s former employee, Reggie Jones has built his own Puyallup-based Heir Sports Academy after a messy parting of ways.
What ensued is a legal battle, with Rise Football suing Jones, the former Kent-Meridian standout who worked his way onto the New Orleans Saints roster when it won the Super Bowl in 2010.
It alleges Jones sabotaged their business just before they fired him and accused him of stealing information on athletes from their database for his own business, and rebranded, deactivated and changed the passwords to Rise’s social media accounts — including changing the settings so only people in South Africa could view its Facebook.
And Jones said he has filed a countersuit against Rise, denying most of the allegations and saying he was under the impression he was a co-founder of the program, which had the same gold and black color scheme as his former team colors with the Saints.
“Their perception in the community is bad,” Jones said. “And they are just trying to do something publicly to generate some buzz. Not sure why they aren’t trying to just do them and let me do me.”
According to the Rise Football lawsuit:
It stated that it had four players sign up for its select 7-on-7 program this past summer, which Jones had scheduled for Aug. 14 – a day before high school football tryouts for the 2017 season.
That was a decline of 97 percent from the previous year, when 122 kids tried out, Rise states. Its tryout participants had increased by 200 percent since its first one in 2015, which included 60 kids.
Jones’ Heir Sports Academy was registered in the state on Aug. 1. And that same day, Jones then changed all the passwords to Rise Football’s social media accounts, the lawsuit states, which Jones admits to.
“My assumption was that I was a partner in the business, so I could take it away with me,” Jones said. “But I came back two days later and gave it back and I created my own.”
Jones was fired as Rise Football’s brand ambassador on Aug. 2. The next day Rise filed a restraining order on Jones to prevent him from accessing and using its social media accounts.
“But the accounts were so damaged that AT Sports was largely unable to use them,” the lawsuit states.
Hundreds stopped following Rise Football’s social media accounts after Jones initially locked his employers out. It had about 6,300 followers on Instagram, 3,300 on Twitter and 2,700 on Facebook. Jones allegedly changed the Twitter account from @risefootball_ to @FootballPost12. And this hurt Rise Football most because social media is its primary means of communication with clients, it stated.
Rise also alleges that Jones then contacted players and parents to promote Heir using information he stole from AT Sports’ secure database, which included client lists and registration information built over a four-year period. And that he downloaded about 30 file sets from the database, obtaining information for 712 Rise Football participants, with AT Sports tracing the IP address back to Jones.
“It is clear that Reggie Jones breached (his) duties by hijacking AT Sports’ social media accounts and acted in direct competition with AT Sports’ business while an employee of AT Sports,” the court documents state.
The lawsuit asks that the court award AT Sports for civil penalties, treble damages and attorney’s fees and costs.
The News Tribune surveyed 40 high school football coaches last year for their thoughts on select 7-on-7 programs and 95 percent said it has become a big enough problem in their eyes – because of specialization, illegal recruiting and the overall select 7-on-7 culture – that they believe the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association should look into addressing the issue.
That survey was part of a series of stories on 7-on-7 football, private training and offseason programs. Quotes in the story from AT Sports president and former Seattle Mariners prospect Aaron Trolia were a big reason Jones said he wanted to leave Rise Football.
“I tried to show them,” Jones said. “I talked to them – you can’t say that type of stuff. You don’t want to burn bridges with football coaches. We are working together to help kids.”
Rise’s lawsuit states that its football training program was created in 2013 and held its first training camp in July 2015. But Jones said he was under the impression he was a co-founder of the program and didn’t accept a paycheck the first five months of his employment because of that.
In his countersuit, Jones asks for double the wages owed to him from that period in an amount to be decided at trial.
Jones was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the New Orleans Saints in 2009, when the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl (though he spent the year on the injured reserve with an Achilles tendon injury). He spent other stints on practice squads with the Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys.
Jones was a standout wide receiver and defensive back at Kent-Meridian before heading to the University of Idaho and Portland State. He was hired by AT Sports in 2015 and was responsible for organizing the Rise Football 7-on-7 program.
In a package DuRocher said he sent to every high school football coach in the state, it says “all high school commitments come before Rise Football 7v7 and training programs,” and he stressed that the order of opportunities should first be with the high school football program, then players’ second or third high school sport, then the high school weight room and then Rise Football. And that they receive input from high school coaches to conduct private workouts.
“My focus is how do we make things better in the South Sound? This is my home,” DuRocher said. “We have to be able to do it all together. It can’t be Rise against this high school coach or whatever. There’s other people who have proven that you can run a facility and not get along with high school coaches. I mean, you can do that. But that’s not the direction I want to go. I want to be respected in that community.”
Puyallup High School’s offseason football workouts will be run by Rise Football for the second consecutive year because of space and sharing with the school’s other sports programs, one of its coaches said.
“You don’t get scholarships by working out at a certain training facility, you get a scholarship by being a good football player and playing well on Friday nights,” DuRocher said. “But we just want to give athletes some of our own experiences and hopefully get them thinking about the right things and allow them to have a better high school experience.
“This is stuff I’ve been thinking about for two years. It’s not like it’s a new thing. But we grew really fast. We were putting a lot of time into 7-on-7 and we were really good at 7-on-7. We just didn’t do a good job handling that.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677