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Virginia Tech recruit Drew Harris is in junior college while wading through academic issues

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After taking the academic path he thought he was supposed to travel, dealing with the heartbreak of finding out he wasn't eligible to go to Virginia Tech and struggling with his own and his father's health issues before finally turning his attention to junior college, Drew Harris just wants an answer.

Is he in, or is he out?

For nearly the last three months, Harris has been enrolled in New York City at ASA College, a junior college which has a football program that finished No. 5 last season in the NJCAA rankings. He still considers himself a Tech commitment, but his father, Drew Harris Sr., said it's probably best to consider him uncommitted given his circumstances.

"It looks like I might have to take the Cam Newton route at this point," said Harris Jr. of heading to junior college.

"At this point, I can't afford to sit here and stress. I've got to go out and do what I've got to do."

At the very least, Harris Jr. just wants to know if the NCAA will let him play Division I football. He had his transcript flagged in January by the NCAA Clearinghouse, and was told the courses he'd taken at Fork Union Military Academy wouldn't count, according to his father.

Now, Harris Jr.'s head is spinning. He and his father are hoping to get a waiver from the NCAA by August on the grounds that they were ill-advised in Harris Jr.'s academic pursuits, but neither is optimistic the waiver will come by the time Harris Jr. would have to enroll at a Division I program for the fall semester.

Harris Jr., a 6-foot-1, 220-pound running back who gained 4,977 career yards at Downingtown East High in Exton, Pa., before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee four games into his senior year, contends he's in the dark regarding his academic situation.

Tech isn't permitted to discuss Harris Jr.'s situation per NCAA rules because he's not signed a letter of intent and he's still a recruitable athlete.

"I'm still watching from the outside of the fishbowl, so I'm like, 'What's going on?'" said Harris Jr. regarding Tech. "What am I supposed to think at this point? Basically, it's like, 'How much do I really mean to you?' It's fine that I have fans tweeting at me saying blah, blah, blah and we want you, but what they don't understand is that it's going to come down to the coaching staff anyway.

"I just got the sense that (Tech) knew something that I didn't throughout this whole time period. It's like, 'How do you want me to act? What do you want me to do?' I'm ready to go. It's almost like they were waiting on another recruit or something."

Harris Jr., who was considered one of the nation's top 30 running backs in the class of 2012 by most recruiting analysts, has been recruited by Tech associate head coach and running backs coach Shane Beamer — with whom Harris Jr. said he has a great relationship.

Adding to the complications is a scholarship offer from Florida State that has caused Harris Jr. to at least consider his options. Of course, FSU has to deal with the same NCAA Clearinghouse issues as any other program with an interest in him.

Harris Sr.'s version of his son's academic issues is a tale of frustration.

Harris Sr., who added Arkansas has shown interest, said his son took an applied geometry class at Downingtown East that ended up not being an accredited course. He was short of the core credits needed for graduation.

The Harrises were encouraged by college-level advisers to have Harris Jr. take online courses through The Keystone School to make up for the unaccredited course. The online course would help him get a qualifying grade-point average that matched his SAT score on the NCAA's sliding scale, according to Harris Sr., who added his son's graduation date was pushed back to summer 2012.

Harris Jr. enrolled at FUMA, only to find out after he'd started classes that the online courses he took couldn't be accepted. Since he didn't graduate from high school with all of his core courses, none of the courses he took at FUMA counted on his transcript, which was flagged.

"It's a big tragedy," said Harris Sr., who had a kidney removed as a result of cancer in his son's junior year at Downingtown East, and then had his gall bladder removed about a year later. "It's kind of hard for an institution to admit that they're wrong. Nobody wants to admit that they're wrong when it comes to this.

"I'm not bad-mouthing the NCAA at all. I've already been through the horror stories. They have their rules and regulations on how they do stuff. They may be consistent, and they may be inconsistent. I'm not here to judge that. I'm just here to do what I need to do to get my son to where he wants to be."

For now, Harris Jr. is working on an associate's degree in criminal justice — a degree he could get in a year since he's already gaining course credits. If he has to stay in junior college, he hopes to only have to remain there for a year, so he'd have four years — including an available redshirt year — to complete three seasons of Division I eligibility.

As far as his desired college destination is concerned, Tech is still high on his list, but FSU has his attention.

"I can't afford to let my parents down at this point," said Harris Jr., who has fully recovered from his knee injury. "My family has been through a lot of issues that people don't even know about.

"Once you've done something so many times, like I have running the ball, you're always going to have that edge. People that have been retired from the NFL for 10 years say they still have that edge. I'm only 19. I'm definitely ready to go, and I think Florida State recognizes that. In the end, if I have to run with that, that's what I have to do."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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