For the majority of people who follow the recruiting process, it is pretty obvious what a redshirt means for an athlete. A redshirt is basically when a player in the program will play under a certain amount of games so that he or she can get an extra year of development before graduating. As I heard from a parent recently, they would prefer their son playing at the Division I level as a 23 year old as opposed to an 18 year old. There are also medical redshirts where you get hurt but that is a whole different story.
A grayshirt is something totally different. I really cannot say where the name came from but I have heard about these more and more within the last few years. At first, it was something that few schools were willing to try. But as they have been able to be more successful with them, they are using them more and more.
Basically a grayshirt is when an athlete delays his enrollment at his future college so that his eligibility clock will not start ticking until he arrives on campus during the second semester of the year. Football is the only sport that I am aware of that uses grayshirts but it could be used by other fall sports and possibly spring sports as well.
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Here is how it would be used. If you were an athlete who signed a National Letter of Intent on Signing Day for football, you would be reporting to the school in early August to start the football season. Your eligibility clock of four playing seasons in five total years would start ticking. If you are currently 18, even if you redshirted and played the next four years, you would finish your playing career around the age of 22 or 23 (Depending on birthday and such).
If you decided to grayshirt, what you would do that first semester would be go to a local Junior College and attend classes. The reason you may go to a JC near home is to save money over another, more expensive school. What you would have to do is make sure that you are not taking a full load. If a full load of classes is considering 12 class hours, you would just need to make sure you are taking less than that. As a grayshirt, you would not get to practice with the team, workout with the team, or even eat at team meals. During the first semester, you are not a part of the team.
The reason that you cannot do that stuff is because you want your full time status to start during the second semester. Instead of just being thrown into the wolves during the summer, you can participate in spring practice, get used to classes, and then possibly be able to play in the fall. If you started in the second semester of next year, which would be 2012, you would get that season, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015 to complete your four years of playing. Some prospects do go from being a grayshirt right to being a redshirt so that they would end up being 23 or 24 when they finish.
Schools will grayshirt a player for a few reasons. The first is because they are really high on a player but have a small class or already a number of other prospects being committed. If you were a senior and you grayshirted, your scholarship would count towards the Class of 2012. It is similar to when a prep athlete graduates high school early to participate in spring practice.
Some people can see a grayshirt as a great opportunity while other may disagree. They are being used more and more at the Division I level so don’t be surprised if you start hearing about it more. Here are a few examples of how they have worked out and not worked out over the last few years.
A football player had multiple scholarship offers but wanted to go to the school that he grew up routing for. The school was very low on scholarships that year so they offered him a gray shirt. He ended up accepting it and actually wound up with the school that summer. Because a player left the team unexpectedly, the athlete mentioned received his scholarship. He didn’t even have to grayshirt in the end.
Another player received an offer from a big school during the summer and he committed on the spot. During his senior year of football, he ended up tearing his ACL and has been out for six to eight months. Because he is still out, a grayshirt will allow his knee to recover and give him more time to get back to 100%. Because he is a lineman, the move time may give him a better chance at playing beyond college.
Those are the good stories. There are also bad stories that don’t exactly make a prospect happy.
A lineman committed to a school known for bringing in Junior College players. He ended the recruiting process early and didn’t even look at other schools. When this lineman finally took his visit to the school, they told him they wanted to bring him in as a grayshirt. The commit immediately pulled his commitment from the school and started looking around elsewhere (I will write about this story more later).
The second happened when a big school changed coaching staffs. They had already had a commitment from a talented tight end in-state but this coaching staff was from down south. The commit liked the new coaches but then they started telling him they wanted him to grayshirt, redshirt, and move to center. This commitment bulked at the move because he would be behind his classmates so much. Instead of being in the Class of 2010, he would basically be in the Class of 2012. Since he wanted to go to college to see the field and get an education, he decommitted from that schools and instead picked a Division I-AA school in-state.
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