BOWLING GREEN — As the Bowling Green State University football team took the field Monday for its first spring practice, all Jake Suder could do was watch.
“It hurt that I wasn’t out there,” Suder admitted. “But I’ve realized I can’t have feelings about a situation I couldn’t control. I’ve moved on.”
The Central Catholic graduate, an All-Mid-American Conference kicker in 2017, had hoped for a big senior season this fall. But a mistake in figuring his eligibility instead has ended his college career a year earlier than expected.
After graduating from Central in May, 2013, Suder kicked for Notre Dame College, a Division II school located in the Cleveland suburb of South Euclid, that fall. He connected on 2 of 4 field goals while kicking off 13 times before leaving the school after one semester.
He then spent a semester at Owens Community College before enrolling at BG in fall 2014. He did not join the Falcons football program until spring 2015 but did not see action that fall before taking over the kicking duties in 2016.
“I thought the fall of 2015 was a redshirt year, but in reality my eligibility clock was ticking, and my redshirt year was 2014,” Suder explained. “Then the coaching switch [from Dino Babers to Mike Jinks] happened, and nobody said anything.
“I thought I was a redshirt sophomore heading into the 2016 season.”
Instead Suder’s eligibility clock — which gave him five years to complete four seasons of eligibility — started ticking the moment he started kicking at Notre Dame College, and it never stopped. So the 2013 season was his first year of eligibility, and his five years of eligibility ended in 2017.
Suder said he does not blame anyone at Bowling Green for the mistake.
“I wouldn’t even know who to blame; it just happened,” he said. “As awful as the situation is, there’s nothing I can do to change it.
“I just have to move on.”
That did not make it easy for him to deal with the news his eligibility had ended, especially after a season in which he had blossomed as a kicker. Suder earned a scholarship thanks to making a kick that turned him into a media sensation, and by season’s end he made 18 of 22 field goals and was voted second-team All-MAC by the league’s coaches.
But he was sucker-punched about a week after the season ended, as Bowling Green reviewed his eligibility for the next year.
“My world dropped,” Suder said. “I had a good season, but I knew I had a lot more work to do. I had higher expectations for myself; I already had sat down and wrote out the goals I wanted to accomplish for 2018.
“When I got that word [about my eligibility], I realized those goals went out the window.”
Suder appealed his eligibility to the NCAA, but he knew he faced an uphill battle. In late February his application for an extension was denied; he appealed the decision, but he braced himself for the end of his college career.
“When I was in that limbo stage, I worked out with the team,” he said. “But in late February when that was denied, I knew I had to start training for pro day. …
“The compliance people at BG told me the appeal was like trying an 80-yard field goal. You can attempt it, but will it go in? Probably not.”
A little more than a week ago the NCAA officially told Suder his appeal had been denied, meaning he had to turn pro.
“As soon as I got the word, I called my dad, and I called every connection that I had,” he said. “I needed to get an agent, and I needed to get my name out there so teams knew I was draft-eligible.
“No teams were looking for me because nobody knew I was eligible.”
Suder said former Central teammate DeShone Kizer helped him with advice, and Suder picked Bowling Green grad Joe Romano to be his agent. But Suder knew BG’s pro day, which took place Monday, would be critical to his kicking future.
“That was a huge day where I had to perform,” Suder said. “In training for the NFL, I have learned you can’t have bad days anymore. You can’t have bad kicks; you have to be at your best always.
“I thought my pro day went as well as it could have. I kept my emotions in check.”
The next month is an important one if Suder hopes to play professionally. He will push for a chance to kick for a team, hoping to get invited to a rookie camp or training camp.
Meanwhile, he will continue work on a degree in physical education and health education he is on track to complete in May, 2019.
While it barely qualifies as a silver lining, at least Suder has learned a lesson about not letting mistakes made in the past hinder the future.
“I think that’s how I’ve grown the most in my time at Bowling Green,” he said. “You have to have thick skin. You can’t let anything bother you. …
“No matter what the result, your emotions have to be under control. That’s the life of a kicker.”
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