Valdosta investigates Rush Propst, allegations of ‘funny money’

The Valdosta City School District is investigating allegations by the high school’s former booster club director that football coach Rush Propst sought the club’s help paying $2,500-a-month rent in cash for Jake Garcia, a star quarterback who transferred from California last fall.

Michael Nelson, the Valdosta Touchdown Club’s director since 2017, said in a 64-page sworn deposition released Monday that Propst also sought $850 in monthly rent for another transfer quarterback, Amari Jones. Nelson also claimed that Propst or his wife cashed a $700 check from an advertiser into a personal account before returning it to the booster club.

Propst did not respond immediately Wednesday to a call seeking comment.

Nelson told the AJC that he was fired as the Touchdown Club director by the club’s board Monday, but held no grudge.

“As far as I am concerned, I am still my board’s friend,’' he said in a text. “I have not an ounce of ill will This is not their fault. It’s not my fault. It’s Rush’s fault.’'

The deposition, which Nelson gave Friday, was released this week by the Superior Court of Lowndes County and given in the civil action against the Valdosta Board of Education filed on behalf of Alan Rodemaker, the coach whom Propst replaced last year. Rodemaker alleges that his January 2020 firing was unjust and racially motivated.

Valdosta Schools superintendent Todd Cason confirmed Monday to WALB-TV in Albany that his district was investigating Nelson’s allegations and had contacted ’'the appropriate agencies.’'

Georgia High School Association executive director Robin Hines confirmed Wednesday that the school district had contacted his office but said no GHSA investigation is imminent.

“There’s nothing for us to investigate at this point,’' Hines said. “We don’t deal on accusations.’'

Hines said the GHSA would become involved if there were ’'some proof of wrongdoing.’'

Nelson’s deposition indicated that Cason reported some of the allegations to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, although Cason told the Albany station that he was unaware if complaints had been filed to the PSC.

Nelson alleged that Propst ’'facilitated’' the move to Georgia of Garcia, a four-star recruit now enrolled at Miami. The GHSA declared Garcia ineligible at Valdosta after he played one game, which Valdosta was forced to forfeit, ruling that Garcia did not make a legal move into the Valdosta district. That decision was not related to payments or recruiting. Garcia later transferred legally to Grayson and led that program to the Class 7A championship.

Nelson said that Propst met with him within weeks of being hired in April 2020 to discuss ’'funny money’' that Nelson indicated Propst intended to use to secure players transferring to Valdosta.

“He gets up from his desk, walks around, and shuts the door,” Nelson said. “He says, ‘Now, I don’t know how you are going to feel about this, but I want to be truthful. We need some funny money.’ And I said, ‘How much funny money you need?’ He goes, ‘I don’t know; $15,000. I always need to keep at least $10,000 cash right here in my desk drawer.’”

Propst is one of the nation’s most widely known, successful and controversial high school football coaches. He won five state titles at Hoover High in Alabama before coming to Colquitt County in Moultrie in 2008. He led Colquitt County to undefeated state championship seasons in 2014 and 2015 and put the Packers in the state semifinals in nine of his last 10 seasons.

Colquitt County fired Propst after the 2018 season despite a 14-1 record and a fifth trip to a state championship game. Colquitt County superintendent Doug Howell accused Propst of providing medication to players, owing back taxes and losing control of the team, accusations that Propst denied.

Propst lost his Georgia teaching certificate but regained it from the PSC last year, calling it “vindication,” days before Valdosta offered him the job. Valdosta reached the Class 6A semifinals last fall in Propst’s first season.