PAYSON — A volunteer football coach and father of six could face felony child abuse charges, and a 13-year-old boy will miss the remainder of his youth football season after the child suffered a concussion in a collision with the coach during a game on Saturday.
Police arrested Nathan Harris, 38, Mapleton, for investigation of felony child abuse on Monday after watching grainy video and talking to witnesses about Saturday's incident that occurred in the final minutes of a football game in Payson. "As the 13-year-old ran down, Mr. Harris stepped out and hit him with his forearm under his chin," Payson police Sgt. Lance Smith said. "And then Mr. Harris stepped back and just stood there."
But while police and the boy's mother believe the coach intentionally hit the boy, an attorney for Harris insists Harris' collision with the child was an accident.
"When all the facts come out in this case, the Payson City Police Department is going to be eating their words on this," said Rhome Zabriskie, Harris' attorney. "They've done a terribly incomplete investigation."
David Durrant, who was officiating the game between rivals Payson and Mapleton, said the boy looked like he was about to go out of bounds — or had just gotten out of bounds — when he was hit near the sidelines of the visiting team.
"It looked like the coach had a lot of time to move, he didn't move, and he stood there and delivered a blow," Durrant said. He penalized Harris' team and ejected Harris from the game. Zabriskie said Harris left immediately after being ejected.
The boy's mother saw the collision and rushed onto the field, as did several other coaches and parents from the Payson team, witnesses said.
"My son … was running with the ball when out of nowhere, the other team's coach blind-sided him and knocked him to the ground," the mother told KSL in an email. "My son, being the kid that he is, just got right back up and was ready to continue on with the game. He didn't even give that coach a second look."
But Mike Nelson, who coaches the Mapleton team's linemen with Harris, said he saw the collision from a few feet away and agreed with Zabriskie's contention.
"I'm in the video," Nelson said, speaking of the video released to the media, which shows the collision. "I'm standing on the sideline, and I see the kid making the edge. … He's coming downhill toward us, and on a trajectory that looked like he was going to come at me. So I took two-and-a-half steps downfield. Our middle linebacker literally pushes him out of bounds (from behind) and right into Nate Harris."
Nelson said he often goes onto the field during games to communicate with players and immediately looked down to see if the coaches and players on Mapleton's sideline were on the field.
"We were clearly off the field," Nelson said. "He was within five yards of me, in between the out-of-bounds line and the players box. The (collision) didn't happen on the field of play."
He said the young man who was hit jumped right up and went back to the huddle. He said he talked to the young man and his parents afterward and was aware that the boy "was hurting."
He said players and coaches shook hands after the game, but when he volunteered his information to police, they were only interested in finding Harris.
"I don't think there was any malicious intent at all," Nelson said. "Nate wouldn't say 'boo.' He's quiet. He just wants his son to love the game."
In fact, Nelson suspects that Harris' instinct to put his arm up as the player crashed into him was prompted by the fact that his 8-year-old son was a ball boy for the game and was standing right next to him on the sideline.
Zabriskie said Harris has never been in trouble with the law and is devastated by the accusation.
Harris posted $5,000 bail and was released from jail about noon Tuesday.
Nelson said the playoffs for the league begin next week and both Mapleton teams have drawn both of the Payson teams in the first round.
As a result of the collision, the boy who was hit will be unable to play for the remainder of the season.
"Nobody expected a coach to be the one to do something like this," the boy's mother said. "My son now has a concussion and is out for the season. My son can't do any physical activity for 30 days."
Contributing: Associated Press
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