Canzano: Texas-sized peanut story is off the rails (2024)

Canzano: Texas-sized peanut story is off the rails (1)

Gustavo Cordova did a stupid thing. Everyone agrees on that. His mother, Shane, told me: “What my kid did was not right. He shouldn’t have done any of this. I don’t take this lightly.”

A peanut allergy.

A football recruit with 44 scholarship offers.

A community divided, two mothers at odds, and the internet in an uproar.

Got that?

Some details of what happened last football season at a central Texas powerhouse high school have been blown out of context. Others have been downright fabricated. But what’s clear is that Cordova, a 6-foot-5 and 250-pound defensive end known as “Gus the Bus,” is at the center of a storm that will require forgiveness and time to heal.

“I’m working on that,” Shawna Mannon told me.

Her son, Carter, is an offensive lineman and teammate of Gus Cordova at Lake Travis High School. The campus is located in Austin, where it was 108 degrees at kickoff for a game last season. It’s so hot the football program regularly provides intravenous saline drips to players the day before games. During one of the IV treatments, the subject of Carter’s peanut allergy came up.

“It can kill me,” he told the room.

The other teenage boys asked questions. Some made jokes. At one point, Carter’s mother says, Gus pressed harder, asking whether exposure to a single peanut really would be fatal to the 6-foot-4 sophom*ore offensive lineman. Carter said it would and pulled out the EpiPen he carried as proof.

A rotten idea was hatched that day.

Two players, including Gus, decided to put peanuts in Carter’s locker. A terrible prank? Or a cruel act hatched in the underdeveloped brains of teenagers? Or something more sinister? Decide for yourself. The boys sprinkled a handful of peanuts in Carter’s cleats and placed a few more into the locker. Sources told me there were “15 or 20 peanuts” in total. One of the boys filmed the act on his iPhone.

“I understand Carter’s mom is upset,” said Shane Cordova, Gus’ mom. “I understand what could have happened. Kids make dumb choices. My kid did something really dumb. His biggest problem is that he didn’t believe Carter.”

Carter told his mother he was puzzled the following day when he saw peanuts on the floor by his locker. He stepped around them. When he opened the locker and pulled out his jersey and cleats, his mom said more peanuts fell out.

How many?

“A few,” Carter’s mother told me.

Peanuts? Or just peanut residue? The Cordova family says Gus regretted planting the peanuts. He and the other boy said they returned to the locker the following morning and removed the peanuts.

Within a few minutes of exposure, witnesses said Carter developed a rash on his forearm. It scared him, but he didn’t have to use his epinephrine pen. There was no emergency room visit and no doctor’s bill, either. Five hours later Carter suited up and played in a high school football game.

Gus did not. He and the other player were benched by coaches after admitting what they did. They were suspended for two games and disciplined by coaches at Lake Travis. School officials declined to comment. Football coaches won’t publicly say what punishment was used. But sources told me that Gus and the other involved player were given several weeks of extra conditioning during their 11-3 football season.

The Travis County District Attorney declined to file charges. Carter’s injuries didn’t escalate to assault. No law in Texas makes the intentional introduction of an allergen a crime by itself. The school district investigated but declined disciplinary actions. No expulsion or suspension, they said. It left the punishment to the football program.

It was a jarring episode for Carter and his family. Parents of children who have allergies often live in fear. They educate their children and inform the school of severe allergies, but can’t control the actions of classmates or every school environment. The episode triggered some bad fears.

There’s much more to this story, of course. There always is. But before we get too deep in the weeds I think it’s worth pointing out that the sides agree on many of the facts.

Everyone agrees, that the locker wasn’t “filled” with peanuts, as some news reports have claimed.

All agree, that Gus wrote a letter of apology to Carter.

All agree, that Carter Mannon is alive while Gus is being called a “murderer” by some on social media.

“My son didn’t die,” Shawna Mannon said.

Canzano: Texas-sized peanut story is off the rails (2)

Gus is a blue-chip football recruit. He has scholarship offers from the University of Oregon, Miami, LSU, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, and USC, among others. The Ducks offensive coordinator, Will Stein, happens to be a former assistant at Lake Travis High. He knows the community well.

The interest from Texas may — or may not — be cooling as it relates to what’s now being called the “peanut incident.” One recruiting publication reported that coach Steve Sarkisian’s interest in Gus Cordova has waned. The Longhorns are “backing off,” it reported amid outrage among boosters.

Others who know Sarkisian’s well-documented past doubt he’d frown upon a second chance. The UT scholarship offer hasn’t been officially withdrawn. And schools aren’t allowed to comment on recruits, per NCAA rules.

Would you want your favorite college football program recruiting Gus Cordova? That’s become a question to ask in recent weeks. Carter’s mother asked me on Friday: “Is there a place for this on a football team and a locker room?”

I suspect if we could get the mothers on both sides together for a sit-down we could settle this in a way that works for everyone.

Turns out, there was a sit-down.

The two mothers met for lunch at a Tex-Mex restaurant called Maudie’s a few weeks after the incident. They spoke cordially and productively. Gus’ mother offered to educate students at the high school by hiring a speaker to talk about the dangers of allergies. Carter’s mother appreciated the offer, called the meeting “very nice” and said she left thinking: “We’re going to be alright.”

In the last five months, the tone shifted. Community members picked sides. Neighboring schools, envious of Lake Travis High’s success, popped popcorn and grabbed front-row seats. Things turned ugly, all around. Several anonymous social media profiles popped up with cyberbullies taking aim at both sides.

Accusations are now flying.

Carter’s mother said the discipline was inadequate and fueled retaliation. She believes Gus has tormented her son at school by repeatedly making “brutal” comments in math class and around campus. She worries about the emotional toll on her son. Someone, she says, slipped a peanut granola bar in her son’s backpack. She filed a grievance with the school district complaining about the bullying. But school officials interviewed both students and determined it didn’t fit the definition.

Carter was asked if he was fearful for his safety and afraid of Gus.

“No,” he told them.

That ended that.

“I’m not one to hold on to hate,” Shawna Mannon told me. “I don’t like the way it feels. I think forgiveness is a process and I’m in the process. I feel like I would start to work towards forgiveness and then (Gus) would do something to bring those feelings back to the surface. So it’s been a bit of a roller coaster.”

Canzano: Texas-sized peanut story is off the rails (3)

Gus’s mother says the bullying accusations are not true. Her son, she says, remains sorry for what he did and has repeatedly apologized to Carter. She wonders if the growing resentment from the Mannon family is misdirected.

Said Shane Cordova: “She’s frustrated by the system. The football coach and athletic director handled the punishment. She wanted Gus expelled and now would love to have him in Juvenile Hall. She wants some form of justice. The mother in me understands that. But it’s done and over. There’s nothing else to do.”

We’ve been told that Texas high school football is special. It is, sometimes, I guess. Books have been written about it. Movies have been made. The stadiums are mini-cathedrals. But it doesn’t sound like such a fun place when you dip your feet into a story like this one. The wreckage isn’t pretty.

A high school community is divided.

Two good families are at odds.

The story has grown toxic tentacles, and that’s not helping. At the very least, everyone at Lake Travis High appears more tuned into the dangers of peanut allergies. That’s a silver lining, I suppose.

Shawna Mannon said: “Everyone is ready to move on from it. There has to be a change in the culture there. There has to be accountability with the coaches. The kids think they can do anything and get away with it.

“He got away with it.”

Gus Cordova’s father got cancer and died when his son was less than a year old. He’s been raised by a mother and a stepfather, Rob, who dream about him going to college and building a life. Gus turned 17 in January. He’ll graduate from high school next year and likely play major college football. His mom remains disappointed that Gus placed peanuts in his teammate’s locker.

“That was wrong,” she said, “and he knows it.”

Carter Mannon, 16, likes to fish and is viewed as a giant “teddy bear” by his sisters. He wants to go to college, too. He doesn’t have football scholarship offers yet. But they’ll come. He’s a good player. Maybe he’ll play on the offensive line across from Gus someday in a college game.

Who knows?

I just wish they could have been better teammates.

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Canzano: Texas-sized peanut story is off the rails (2024)
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