Broward High Schools

Top UM signee Sam Bruce withdraws from St. Thomas Aquinas after alleged gun-photo incident

St. Thomas Aquinas' Sam Bruce Jr. flashes the U with his father, Sam Bruce, after committing to the University of Miami on National Signing Day on Feb. 3, 2016.
St. Thomas Aquinas' Sam Bruce Jr. flashes the U with his father, Sam Bruce, after committing to the University of Miami on National Signing Day on Feb. 3, 2016. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

Sam Bruce, one of the top high school football recruits in the country, a standout receiver and cornerstone of the University of Miami’s recent recruiting class, withdrew from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday following an incident that allegedly involved Bruce holding a gun in a photograph.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Bruce used the photo of himself with a weapon as part of an ongoing dispute with an older, former Aquinas male student over Bruce’s ex-girlfriend. The source said the photo ended up in the hands of the former student, who then called police and Aquinas.

When the Herald called Fort Lauderdale police, which has jurisdiction over Aquinas, a public information officer said there was no incident report filed regarding Bruce, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, except for one involving a car accident in 2014.

When reached separately by the Herald on Wednesday morning, Bruce’s parents insisted their son was not in trouble. Bruce’s mother, who said she withdrew Sam from school Tuesday, then directed the Herald to speak with family attorney Frank A. Maister of Fort Lauderdale.

“All is well with Sam,” Bruce’s father, Sam Sr., said. “He was here with me last night. All is well with my son. Don’t listen to those people. I’m the father of Sam Bruce Jr. All is well with my son.”

Added Bruce’s mother Tracye Wilkerson: “I withdrew him from St. Thomas. He’s not in trouble. Everything is fine with Sam.”

Maister said he saw the photo, and that Bruce was holding a gun, but there was “no indication of where and when the picture was taken,’’ and “no certainty’’ it was a real gun. Either way, Maister said, Bruce did nothing illegal.

“Yes, I’ve seen the picture,’’ Maister said. “He’s 18 years old. He has an absolute right to possess a firearm under the second amendment of the Constitution. Totally legal. And there’s no certainty it’s a real gun. It might very well be a BB gun. There’s not a story here. He’s a great kid. He’s got a great family.

“…There was a dispute between Sam and a much older guy about a girl. And this 25-year-old guy, who I’m sure is the source behind all of this, threatened Sam, is what happened.’’

When asked if the 25-year-old was the girl’s boyfriend, the lawyer said, “I don’t know, but this is his feeble attempt to try to upset Sam and try to get back at Sam at the same time.

“Sam is not in any trouble. He’ll be enrolled somewhere else within 24 hours.’’

The lawyer was asked why Bruce withdrew from St. Thomas Aquinas if he’s not in trouble.

“I think it was a desire to do what’s best for Sam at this point,’’ Maister said. “He wanted to remove himself from even the potential of any issues.’’

Added Maister of Bruce and the former girlfriend in question: “I don’t think she’s involved in this in any way to be honest. I think they’re great friends. No words were sent or said to anyone.’’

Maister said that though it is not illegal to be shown holding a gun in a photograph, that it “is a private school’s prerogative to set their rules. You asked me if this is a school thing. I can only guess. I do know private schools can make their own rules. There is no crime here.”

The Herald called St. Thomas Aquinas athletic director George Smith, who was in meetings Wednesday according to the athletic department secretary. Smith did not immediately return the calls.

Another source with knowledge of the situation said Bruce, an Under-Armour All-American who is rated as the seventh-best receiver in the country by Rivals.com, has had a history of maturity issues and “has a lot of growing up to do.”

Earlier this season, before leading the Raiders to back-to-back Class 7A state titles, Bruce was held out of a third-round state playoff game in late November for what head coach Roger Harriott described then as “an internal matter.”

As for his future, Bruce needs to enroll at another high school to complete his senior year and graduate before he can qualify to get into UM. Wilkerson told the Herald last month her son had a 3.2 grade-point average and was fully qualified.

Miami assistant athletic director for communications Tom Symonds said Wednesday of Bruce, “He’s scheduled to be on the team as part of the 2016 signing class.”

Symonds said Bruce is expected to enroll at UM in May.

Miami Herald reporter Carli Teproff contributed to this report.

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