T.A. Cunningham is cleared by CIF to play for Los Alamitos

The Los Alamitos football team will gain one of the top defensive linemen in the country for its game Friday night at Newport Harbor.

After a long back-and-forth fight that included a request for an emergency restraining order, junior T.A. Cunningham has been granted a hardship waiver by the CIF Southern Section and cleared to play after transferring from Georgia.

Originally, the Southern Section blocked Cunningham’s eligibility on the grounds that he didn’t meet the definition of a homeless student, according to a complaint filed Sept. 13 by Cunningham’s attorney, Mike Caspino. After dropping that argument, the Southern Section opened an investigation to determine whether what the organization refers to as “undue influence” was used to sway Cunningham to Los Alamitos.

“We conducted a thorough review of the elements in this case, and all relevant CIF bylaws that apply, as we do with all transfer applications that are submitted to our office,” the Southern Section said in a statement sent to The Times. “We followed all our required processes and timelines in completing this review.”

“Upon doing so, and after receiving new information that clarified issues related to the initial denial, we made the determination that the student was eligible to play at Los Alamitos High School as of September 26, 2022.”

Cunningham is a five-star prospect and the No. 1 defensive lineman in the class of 2024, according to 247 Sports.

Los Alamitos coach Ray Fenton confirmed Cunningham would play Friday. Caspino told the defensive lineman the news Monday morning and said he could tell Cunningham had been crying, the lawyer said.

“He was ecstatic,” Caspino said. “He kept thanking God.”

The Sept. 13 complaint filed by Caspino seeking to restore Cunningham’s eligibility argued that the influence that brought him to Los Alamitos wasn’t anyone involved with the program but, rather, the agency Levels Sports Group, which had promised name, image and likeness deals for Cunningham and his family housing in California.

Caspino said he had “complete confidence” that Cunningham would be cleared at the end of the investigation.

Columnist Eric Sondheimer contributed to this report.