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Former Lake Highland Prep star learns cold, hard truth about NCAA gray-shirting

Chris Hays

The Prospector

7:11 PM EST, December 5, 2012

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Seeing the official college football bowl schedule being announced on Sunday was like another jabbing poke to the ribs of former Lake Highland Prep standout Ty Law.

He could have been extremely excited on Sunday, jumping around with his Southern Methodist University teammates as they learned they would officially be bound for Hawaii this holiday season; a Christmas eve date with Fresno State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl 

“That makes it worse. I’ve been thinking about it,” Law said Monday. “I can’t travel with them and so yeah it hurt, especially since I know the team now … and it also hurts seeing the kids who were playing as true freshman this year. There have been lots of things. It’s been hard.”

You’ll have to excuse Law if he’s not quite as trusting as he used to be. The affable, good-natured Law, whose personality lights up a room, had to fight off all of the negative thoughts that raced through his head this past summer when he learned that he would be a gray shirt at SMU this season.

Prior to signing with Mustangs in February, Law showed up for a pre-National SIgning Day photo shoot wearing a gray SMU hoodie. Little did we know back then of the eerily twisted dose of foreshadowing going on that day.

Law was excited. He was about five months away from becoming a college football player and was anxious for his opportunity to get on the field early at the Dallas school. Law even moved to Texas early, moving in with an uncle so he could get acclimated more quickly to his new surroundings.

He was on campus, striking up relationships with his new teammates, working out in the team weight room, using the facilities, just like a bonafide, true-blood SMU Mustang.

Then they lowered the boom.

“I moved up there May 29 and my report date wasn’t until sometime in June, but I had family there and I got everything done early, got my physical and my paperwork all in order,” Law said. “I was there for about two weeks when they told me I was going to gray-shirt.”

He learned the news two days before the team reporting date from head coach June Jones, who had told the recruiting class that someone in the group was likely going to have to gray shirt. Law just didn't expect it to be him. Not after all the talks he had with his coaching contacts.

The term is a little more complicated than a red shirt. A red-shirt player is given an extra year of eligibility after going through a season without playing a game, all while still being enrolled in school during the concurrent academic year.

A gray shirt, as Law explains it, means, “You can’t do anything with the team until January. Nothing ... can’t even enroll in school."

Gray-shirted players can enroll at another institution, but cannot take a full-time course load, usually 12 credit hours, and are required to pay out-of-pocket tuition and any other expenses. 

Coaches use it more often these days when the oft-used term “over-signing” takes place. Some schools will over-sign players in a recruiting class not knowing for sure if all signed players will qualify academically.  It also comes up when a team gets more transfer players than perhaps originally planned, but it doesn’t always work out the way Law’s situation came to fruition. Most gray-shirted players are often told early in the process.

Law was not so fortunate. And, understandably, he was mad, as were his parents.

“My whole senior year I was going through thinking I was going to get a chance to play early as a freshman,” Law said. “Initially, I was pretty upset and I let them know about it, but they tried to explain to me that I would get the same opportunity, just that I wouldn’t be able to come in until the spring. … but I was very upset.

“It made me wonder if they were thinking about it since signing day or if it just came up."

Keep in mind that gray-shirted players do not lose any seasons of eligibility and they still are pinned to the NCAA rule of getting five years to use four seasons of eligibility. Law could even be red-shirted in the future, but let's not go there.

Upon his intial gray-shirt realization, Law stewed about it for a while. He even considered going elsewhere, but in the end, he’s glad cooler heads prevailed.

“When the coach first called, I hung up and immediately started thinking about calling other schools, but after talking it out with my family we went and had a meeting face-to-face with the coaches and that’s when we decided I would go ahead and stay with SMU.”

“I didn’t really feel like going through the whole recruiting process a second time.”

Who would? It’s no fun trying to land a college scholarship, especially after you have already landed one.

“My dad was really mad. My mom was mad, but my dad … he was really mad,” said Law. “But even though she was mad, my mom kept talking about having SMU on that paper when I graduate and that will mean a lot.”

He remained in Dallas this fall and has been able to use the team facilities, but nothing else. Not being part of the team hurts. He feels like an outsider. And not only is he constantly reminded of his predicament when being excluded from the team, but other things constantly poke at him.

Like when SMU came to Orlando this season to play UCF.

“My phone was blowing up that week. People were asking me about tickets or even after the game they were asking me where I was [on the sidelines], that they were looking for me,” said Law, who recently returned to Orlando for the rest of the year. “I didn’t want to have to explain the whole gray-shirt thing to everybody again and again. A lot of people have no idea what it means.”

It’s a gray area that cult movie hero “Fletch” would certainly consider to be more charcoal in color. (Sorry, insider joke there.)

Sunday's disappointment of not being able to celebrate with the team for its impending trip to Hawaii was compounded by the unintentional jabs posted to Law's Facebook newsfeed Sunday night as friends touted their own excitement about heading to a bowl game.

Just more pokes in the ribs.

Good friend Tyree Holder from Tampa Catholic posted about his Ball State team headed to the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg. Not only was it tough to be excited for his friend, but it was the same school to which he and Holder took an official visit together last year.

“Yeah when I found out they were going there, that got me upset too,” Law said. “It seems like it’s been something every week.”

He’s not even sure what position he’ll play once he does hit the field. He arrived last summer and his locker was in with the receivers group. He had originally been told  he was going to be playing cornerback. He came out of Lake Highland as an athlete, and played running back, receiver and defensive back for the Highlanders.  

“At this point, I’ll play whatever,” Law said.

He’ll emerge from the situation next month when he finally enrolls. He's been through a lot. Even at the early stages of his recruiting process Law had a scholarship offers pulled by West Virginia and NC State, which filled up at his position. 

He’s happy his wait is almost over, but don’t expect him to be Mr. Trustworthy. Not yet anyway.

Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at chays@tribune.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting and now on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.