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Published: Saturday, 8/11/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

UT grayshirts overcome challenge

BY RYAN AUTULLO
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
UT's Keith Suggs was a grayshirt in 2010. UT's Keith Suggs was a grayshirt in 2010.
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In February, 2010, the University of Toledo signed a football recruiting class it did not have room for.

Scholarship reductions, imposed by the NCAA for poor academic scores, meant four of the 26 pledges would delay their enrollment. They would grayshirt, a term that at the time was uncommon at UT but is now part of the lexicon.

Twelve members of the recruiting classes from 2010-12 grayshirted or -- and this is slightly different -- delayed their joining the team, this as a means to overcome eligibility barriers brought on by academic shortcomings, or to recover from injury. Of that total four remain on the roster, having successfully made it to the end of a high wire that for the unfocused and undetermined proves to be too daunting to navigate. The jury is out on two others: newcomers Jody Webb and Armani Miller.

"You're either going to follow the crowd or you're going to follow your dreams," cornerback Keith Suggs said. "I decided to follow my dreams."

The difference between grayshirting and one's delaying his participation with the team is semantics. Grayshirting, which Suggs did in 2010, means to postpone enrollment -- typically for one semester -- as a way of manipulating scholarship restrictions. Others enroll in school and spend their first semester trying to get accepted by the NCAA Clearinghouse. They are unable to practice or work out with the team.

"It sometimes gives a young man the six months he needs to mature," coach Matt Campbell said.

There is no downside to exercising these loopholes. If a player that grayshirts or sits out ultimately makes it on the roster, then wonderful. If he doesn't, no big deal. Those who have fallen off at UT, guys like Matt Neal, John James, and Robert Walton, don't hurt the program because there was little invested in them to begin with.

Suggs is among the success stories. Recovering from shoulder surgery, he stayed home in Indianapolis instead of enrolling in the fall of 2010 and starting his eligibility clock. He arrived the following January, 11 months after signing a letter of intent. Suggs, who is among six cornerbacks vying for two starting spots, started three games last season.

Similar to Suggs' situation is reserve defensive end Keenan Gibbs, who redshirted last year, one year after he grayshirted. A freshman eligibility-wise, Gibbs will miss at least four games as he recovers from ACL surgery.

Because they are unable to practice or work out at the football facility, players in these types of situations must try to rise above their obstacles without the everyday oversight of the coaches

"You have to have a kid that has the wherewithal and the commitment level from himself to be successful," Campbell said.

Campbell is excited about the prospects of two freshmen who spent last academic year away from the team. Trent Voss, a linebacker who did not qualify amid confusion over the validity of a course he took in high school, could help out on special teams.

"That kid stuck with it," Campbell said. "He's a really good football player."

Campbell bestowed even higher praise on Alonzo Russell, calling the 6-foot-4, 190-pound receiver "special." Suggs, upon going one-on-one against Russell in practice, labeled him a "freak," marveling at his combination of speed and size. Russell is something of a gift to UT, as Virginia Tech soured on him when it appeared he would not qualify.

It remains to be seen whether 2012 signees Webb and Miller will, as Suggs said, follow their dreams or follow the crowd. Webb, a running back from Whitmer, will take 15 credit hours at UT this semester. How he performs will determine whether he will join the team in January.

"This can't do anything but make me better," Webb said. "I can't do anything but learn from my mistakes, and I'll never put myself in this position again."

PRACTICE NOTES: David Fluellen, the presumed starter at running back, is being withheld from team drills as he recovers from a foot injury he suffered in the summer. ... Among the most impressive players after one week of practice, according to Campbell, are safety Mark Singer, defensive lineman Elijah Jones, and the offensive line.

Contact Ryan Autullo at: rautullo@theblade.com, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.



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