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Transfer rule leading to more talent in Division II

September 06, 2009|Tim Booth | Booth writes for the Associated Press.

ELLENSBURG, WASH. — This is not how Matt Ah You's final season of college football was supposed to play out -- against Division II talent on a browning, wind-swept practice field pocked with dusty divots.

This is a Division I linebacker, someone with the chops to play in 13 games and record 50 tackles last season as a part-time starter at Brigham Young, the school where his father played and his brother began his career.

But a disagreement with his position coach over playing time and a new NCAA rule landed Ah You at Central Washington, finding himself preparing for the likes of Minnesota Duluth and Dixie State instead of Oklahoma and Florida State.

"They don't care where you came from as long as you can play," Ah You said on a recent 98-degree afternoon. "They don't care you came from a [Division I] school, they only care if you can play football."

Ah You is one of the college football players affected by a little-known NCAA rule implemented in 2006 but only now starting to alter the landscape. The rule prohibits seniors-to-be in Football Bowl Subdivision programs (formerly Division I-A) from transferring to a Football Championship Subdivision program (formerly Division I-AA) and being able to play immediately.

Previously, players who met the requirements of the one-time transfer exception could go to FCS schools and play right away regardless of how many years of eligibility they had remaining. Now players with one year left must decide between toughing out often difficult situations at their big-name programs or stepping down to Division II and taking a chance at regional schools such as Central Washington, North Alabama or West Texas A&M.

The NCAA said it changed the rule over concern players were transferring for purely athletic reasons and a "market" for top-tier talent had been created by FCS schools seeking one-year hired guns. To make sure athletes are committed to the schools, they now must have at least two years of eligibility remaining to be allowed to play right away.

Of the top 15 teams in the American Football Coaches Association preseason Division II poll, at least six have players on their rosters because of the new rule. Besides Central Washington, others include Valdosta State, Delta State (Miss.), Abilene Christian and North Alabama -- with new Coach Terry Bowden.

"I'm going to try to recruit every minute as many players as we can qualify under the amount of scholarships that we have," said Bowden, who has taken advantage of his father's connection at Florida State with a handful of former Seminoles on the North Alabama roster.

Ah You and former Alabama linebacker Prince Hall are on the roster at Central Washington. Kellen Lewis, a three-year starter at Indiana and holder of 16 school records at the Big Ten school, will be the quarterback for Valdosta State. Byron Davenport, a onetime starting cornerback at Washington, is now on the Gulf Coast at Delta State.

It's hard to fully account for everyone who spent time at a Division I school, but with the coaching turnover at college football's top level and players always looking for the best situation to display their skills, the new rules could lead to an influx of talent at Division II schools.

"It is recruiting. It's fast," Central Washington Coach Blaine Bennett said. "These transfers want to know now, what the money is, who you have at that position and what your school is all about . . . The aggressive [Division II] programs will get very good. We try to be."

Many times a player is looking for a second chance because of disciplinary matters, hoping to restore his name and give pro scouts one more look at his skills.

Lewis was already disgruntled for being moved to wide receiver, then was kicked off the team at Indiana for violating team rules. Andy Roof, an offensive lineman at Central Washington, was kicked out of school at Washington State after his arrest for investigation of assault, which came after he was suspended a season for a drunk-driving arrest.

Lewis and Roof both started last week in victories for their teams.

Ah You falls into a different category. From a Mormon family that bled BYU blue and white, Ah You wanted to become a Cougar to follow his brother C.J and father Charles. But his brother ended up transferring to Oklahoma and Ah You went on his two-year Mormon mission. When he returned to the campus in Provo, Utah, a new linebackers coach was in place with a plan to split time between his linebackers.

Ah You played in the system last year but didn't want to spend his senior season shuffling on and off the field as a part-time player.

Same went for quarterback Johnny DuRocher, the onetime player of the year in Washington state, who saw his career at the University of Washington end after a brain tumor was discovered after a concussion.

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