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

Ty Law, Taylor Barton, Michael Kalaman

Lake Highland's Ty Law (middle, SMU) goofs with teammate Taylor Barton (Illinois) and Trinity Prep's Michael Kalaman (Temple) during a pre-National Signing Day photo shoot last January. (CHRIS HAYS / ORLANDO SENTINEL)

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.”

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