The story of T.A. Cunningham has now taken a notable twist. Cunningham, the top defensive line prospect in the 2024 class as per 247 Sports’ composite rankings, transferred from Johns Creek High near Atlanta, Georgia to California this offseason to play for Los Alamitos High School. But he was denied eligibility at first. That was thanks to California Interscholastic Federation rules requiring an athlete who transfers to a new school without a full family change of residence “initially ineligible,” forcing them to sit out for 12 months.
Cunningham applied for a hardship waiver, citing homelessness (one of 10 circumstances allowed for that). The CIF initially turned down his application on Sept. 9, saying that he and his brother were living with the mother of a fellow player at the STARS academy where they train, and thus, they didn’t meet the definition of homeless.
Cunningham’s lawyers then filed a court injunction Sept. 15 asking for clearance for him. In that filing, they cited “unscrupulous NIL agents” from Levels Sports who allegedly promised Cunningham “a home, transportation and meals in California” if he was to make that move, but didn’t fulfill those promises. (One other notable figure they cited as involved with Levels was trainer Chris “Frogg” Flores, who was charged with six counts of molesting a teenager in August; the filing says “Flores’ role was to market Cunningham to university football programs’ collective groups in order to obtain a lucrative NIL deal.”)
Now, the CIF has cleared Cunningham to play. He tweeted about that Monday:
— T.A. CUNNINGHAM . 💕 (@_getlikealex) September 26, 2022
Andy Staples, Bruce Feldman, and Stewart Mandel of The Athletic dove into Cunningham’s situation in detail last week, and that piece is well worth a read. A few of the many notable quotes from it:
“The kid is so talented,” said one college coach recruiting T.A. Cunningham, “but he’s just surrounded by grossness.”
…“The plan was for me to be back in California very soon. And what are we doing to get some money?” [Cunningham’s father Terrance Cunningham, also known as] Big Rev wrote, according to a screenshot of a text exchange included in the complaint. “I’ve been asking about that and no one is saying anything! What’s the plan? What are we endeavoring to do?”
…When asked by The Athletic about his time served [for wire fraud, money laundering, and more], Terrance Cunningham maintained his innocence. “I ain’t no criminal,” he said. “I’m a convict because I got convicted in federal court. In federal court they say you can indict a ham sandwich.”
…Bruce Bible, Los Alamitos High’s assistant head coach, said he began to help look after the two Cunningham boys later in the summer. “(T.A.) ended up with us, and we’re trying to pick up the pieces,” Bible said. “I’m trying to keep all the vultures away. Since he’s been around us, a lot of those people haven’t been around. Being displaced and having to be in different people’s homes, that could be rough on anyone — let alone children.”
…Added Bible: “I think because he’s so massive people forget that he’s just a kid.”
It’s interesting that Cunningham has now been cleared to play despite all this. And there will undoubtedly be plenty of people following him closely over the next two years of high school football. We’ll see what that all leads to.
[Photo from T.A. Cunningham on Twitter]