How Bishop Sycamore’s madness nearly went international

By now, if you follow sports, you’ve certainly heard of the story of Bishop Sycamore Centurions football, the Columbus, Ohio-based fraudulent high school football team that recently was exposed on American national television.

Following an ugly game, the truth about the institution came to light. If you are however unfamiliar with the school’s background, make yourself comfortable because there’s a lot to unravel.

The complex and chaotic context of Bishop Sycamore

When things seemed fishy during a nationally televised Bishop Sycamore blowout loss to IMG Academy, people began to dig. It didn’t take much time before major sports media outlets discovered that the team was not in fact an elite high school football program as they had claimed. In fact, they were not even an accredited academic institution.

The school’s website featured a largely empty BlogSpot page primarily focused on how prospects should make a highlight tape. Unsurprisingly, the website was scrapped earlier last week as the story of the “school” went viral. The phone number to Bishop Sycamore led to a full voicemail box and, better yet, the address of the school was listed as a PO box, then switched to a residential house, then finally to an athletic performance center. According to an interview from Complex Sports former player, Aaron Boyd claimed the students never even went to class.

Bishop Sycamore was born of out the ashes of Christians of Faith high school, another football-focused school that had its academic accreditation taken away by October of its first-ever semester back in 2018. Currently, the Ohio State government is investigating the Bishop Sycamore institution and its main figures, primarily, recently fired head coach Roy Johnson, programs director Andre Peterson, and longtime partner and Columbus TV personality, Jay Richardson.

On the field, Bishop Sycamore took the national stage claiming they had a plethora of division one talent on their roster. While receiver Jeremy Naborne has two offers from TCU and Tennessee, the roster is largely made of players who have questionable status at best. According to that same interview, Boyd claimed that most players were aged 19 or 20. Other player interviews seemed to confirm that the roster included several 20- and 21-year-olds. Unchecked by athletic officials, Bishop Sycamore is also not part of Ohio’s Athletic Association and is instead registered out of state in the Texas Christian Athletic League. At least one player on their roster, Mecose Todd, had junior college experience but was listed as a senior on the Centurions roster.

The athletes’ living conditions were described as dismal. Boyd claims many athletes spent the season sleeping on air mattresses in an unsupervised house often fighting with each other and wondering where they were getting their next meal. Without proper meal plans or adult supervisors, the players resorted to stealing from local grocery stores to feed themselves.

Former quarterback Judah Holtzclaw spent some of the 2020 seasons with the Centurions. Holtzclaw says in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch that the school arranged to pay for players’ hotel rooms but never did, consequently leaving the players’ families with the massive bill. Player safety on the field is also a concern as videos surfaced of them sharing helmets due to lack of equipment.

One thing the program was able to do was schedule games. Both as Christians of Faith in and Bishop Sycamore, the institution’s football teams were able to play against some of the best powerhouse Ohio high schools programs such as St. Ignatius and Massillon, along with out of state nationally ranked teams, IMG Academy (FL), North Allegheny (PA), Dematha (MD), and Saint Frances Academy (MD). However, taking on some of the best high school teams in the country backfired record-wise as the Centurions went 0-6 in 2020 losing by an average of 31 points. This year they were scheduled to play eight nationally-ranked teams and accordingly were listed as having the fourth toughest schedule in the country by MaxPreps.

Bishop Sycamore had the fourth-ranked toughest schedule for 2021 Photo Credit: Max Preps

Getting back to this season, player safety concerns continued as the Centurions played two games in only three days losing to StoRax high school in Pittsburgh on Friday, then losing to IMG Academy on Sunday. After the school’s lack of accreditation and questionable players’ status went viral, most of its remaining opponents have canceled leaving the Centurions players and coaches wondering what’s next. Ohio state officials’ investigation and an arrest warrant for former head coach Roy Johnson will likely be the next news breaking from the school.

But the Bishop Sycamores madness didn’t stop in the American midwest:

Bishop Sycamore’s former coach seemed highly intrigued by Europe and Canada’s talent pool, going after several international prospects. Johnson mentioned Croatian and London-based players, along with other international prospects in an August interview with the High School Football America Podcast. Overall multiple players from France, Croatia, England, and Canada, were at one point reportedly joining the program according to both the team’s Twitter account and head coach.

Former Bishop Sycamore head coach Roy Johnson commented on his long list of international players:

“This is one of the things the coaching staff doesn’t want me to reveal. We have guys coming from London, we have guys coming from Croatia and some other countries. We have a guy named Kofi with an offer from Michigan State coming to play linebacker for us. We’re excited about getting him over here and expanding this program into an international program.”

Former Bishop Sycamore head coach Roy Johnson had sought out international talent for the 2021 season Photo Credit: ESPN

The player Johnson mentions by name is 6’3″, 230-pound Kofi Taylor-Barrocks. The English defender is a highly sought-after international prospect in the class of 2022. The hard-hitting linebacker is part of the NFL Academy in London, a program specializing in developing European talent and getting them to the next level. The goal seems to be working for the teenager, as he’s earned a scholarship offer from division one Michigan State University.

Taylor-Barrocks explained his introduction and initial draw to the program while talking with their coaches this past summer:

“They were telling me about the amazing program that they have, and about how they are going to have one of the toughest schedules in the nation. So I ended up being interested and thought it would have been a great opportunity to compete and show the nation that I have the same talent as everyone else throughout the country.”

Much like the interview with former Centurion Aaron Boyd, Bishop Sycamore’s staff selling point was without a doubt exposure. in fairness, that is one thing that the program achieved, scheduling multiple games against marquee high school programs in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. For an under-recruited international prospect, the promise of exposure would naturally grab their attention. According to Taylor-Barracks, Bishop Sycamore claimed to be on a trajectory towards the top of high school football:

“They said to me that they were going to be similar or near to the level of IMG in the next upcoming years.”

Bishop Sycamore’s “Official” roster vs Archbishop Hoban on August 19th, featuring English linebacker Kofi Taylor-Barracks and Canadian brothers Mark and Matt Armah (none of whom were on the team)

Luckily the Londonbased linebacker was ultimately steered clear of the program after more information became available. Yet, that didn’t stop Bishop Sycamore from listing him and two other international players on their roster.

Brothers Matthew and Mark Armah of Alberta, Canada went back and forth for months with the Ohio program before finally making the decision to stay in Canada. The allure of exposure was not enough as the brothers were left with too many unanswered questions.

Matthew Armah commented on his interactions with the mysterious program (via The Athletic):

“Every time we asked him how we’d live, we’d never get a clear answer,” Matthew Armah says. “We need to know the living situation. We’re not just going down there if we don’t know.”

Mathew (93) and Mark (9) Armah

Mark Armah added some context to the situation in a dm message:

“I never actually went to Bishop Sycamore. I was supposed to, but wasn’t sounding right so I didn’t. They put me on their roster even though I don’t play for them.”

The absurdity of the Bishop Sycamore program appears to be never-ending, as the deeper one digs the more preposterous the institution reveals its self to be. Shockingly, Bishop Sycamore (or some version of it) has operated since 2018. Luckily, none of these international athletes enrolled, as they listened to the people around them and avoided the disaster of the Centurions program. The school’s lack of academic accreditation could be a problem for players and their future NCAA eligibility, especially for international players who may already face obstacles in that department. The idea of a football-first charter school might sound appealing to a teenager chasing division one dreams, but the consequences could end up costing them a host of problems in the long run.

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football