As he prepared to board a plane Friday morning in New Orleans, Denham Springs High lineman Tevin Lawson knew he was anything but an accidental or casual tourist.
Bound for an official visit to the University of Kentucky, Lawson and his mother, Katrina, had a prepared list of questions.
“There are things we’re going to ask,” Lawson said. “We’re going to ask about the classes there and tutoring, along with football.”
Those questions are small in comparison with those looming from the big picture that engulfed the 6-foot-4, 270-pound lineman in the nine days before Wednesday’s national signing day. Lawson never imagined he’d make another trip after his official visit to LSU late last month. After all, he committed to the Tigers last spring. But it wasn’t a done deal. The day after Lawson completed his official visit, DSHS coach Dru Nettles said he got a call saying LSU wanted Lawson to accept a grayshirt offer.
A late scramble
Regardless of what happened next, one thing was apparent: Lawson wouldn’t sign with LSU on Feb. 6. The days since have been a whirlwind of college coaches calling to make their pitch to Lawson, who must now decide whether he should find a new college football dream or live an altered one.
“It’s been emotional for Tevin and his family and also for the school and our community,” Nettles said. “I can honestly say I’ve seen another side of recruiting most people haven’t.
“The tough part is that Tevin made his decision last spring. At that point, a lot of schools backed off of him, knowing that he was a Baton Rouge kid, and he wouldn’t budge from that commitment. We had Tevin and Kaleb (Blanchard, running back) commit early and everybody was proud of that. You teach kids to honor their commitments, and that’s what they did.”
Blanchard, who originally committed to Arkansas, over the summer found himself looking for another school when the Razorbacks hired a new coach late last year. Blanchard signed with South Alabama last week.
Media reports had circulated questioning whether Lawson would be an academic qualifier. Nettles refutes those reports, saying Lawson has recorded back-to-back semesters of 2.8 and 2.9 grade-point averages, and his core grades are in the acceptable range.
Nettles said LSU did question a summer school class Lawson took to achieve a higher grade because some of the coursework was done on a computer.
The course Lawson took was no online course. Lawson attended summer school at DSHS to complete the course, something that also is a common practice. Nettles said the course was not flagged by the NCAA’s eligibility clearinghouse and that the Livingston Parish school system is having its summer courses reviewed by the clearinghouse.
That was only part of the picture that emerged. The late scramble for Lawson’s attention led a number of schools to send scholarship papers to the school. Lawson opted not to sign.
Nettles said the list of schools making scholarships offers grows daily, including the likes of Kentucky, Tennesssee, Oklahoma State, TCU and others the DSHS coach struggles to remember. Miami also has been among the recent callers.
Lawson started taking other visits last week, including one to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. With the Mardi Gras holidays this week, Lawson said he might make two more visits.
“TCU is a place I’d like to go,” Lawson said. “They talked to me last spring. And there’s Louisiana Tech, closer to home. Mississippi State is another school I talked with before.
“I’ve talked to coach Brick (Haley, LSU assistant) some, and I’ve talked to coach (Les) Miles twice. My family is pretty ticked off.”
The term grayshirt is nothing new to LSU or most college football programs. It’s a common practice when schools look to add more players than their scholarship allotment for a particular year allows.
For example, the Monroe News-Star included a list of grayshirt commitments that the University of Louisiana at Monroe lined up this year in its recruiting coverage.
A grayshirt does not sign, but instead agrees to enroll the following January to become part of the school’s next recruiting class. Should the player decide to attend classes in the fall, he must pay his own way and can only go to school part time.
LSU came under fire in 2010 when lineman Elliott Porter, a former Archbishop Shaw player, rejected a grayshirt offer during the summer months and then went to Kentucky before coming back to LSU.
But the Tigers do have one illustrious grayshirt player to note: former Northeast High standout Trindon Holliday, now a return specialist for the Denver Broncos.
“Trindon had some other options, like Southern Miss, but he wanted to go to LSU and that was bottom line,” Northeast coach David Masterson said. “And it really wasn’t a bad thing for him. He enrolled in January, and he didn’t grayshirt in track … he was competing three weeks later.”
Masterson, a former college assistant, said situations like Lawson’s are a reminder college football is about business also, and colleges also face pressure to make the right decisions. Masterson rattled off a list of colleges both this year and in past years that opted to sign more than 25 players, the standard one-year allotment.
Where to go?
Like any high school coach, Nettles wants to see Lawson chart the best path possible for himself. The DSHS coach laments that Lawson didn’t get the signing day experience other seniors had last week.
“Most people think of it as being just a national signing day,” Nettles said. “But it is a signing period. It may take Tevin a couple of weeks to sort out what he wants.
“Once he goes out there, he may find something else he likes. Or he might decide to do the grayshirt at LSU. It’s strictly going to be his choice.”
Lawson said he is keeping an open mind, adding, “I’m looking to see what’s out there.”