The Virginia Tech Hokies had hoped to welcome 2015 signees DT Eric Whitehead and DB Adonis Williamson from Indianapolis' Arsenal Technical HS to campus this summer, but now both are bound for junior colleges in New York.
Despite their best efforts, both players failed to meet the NCAA standards for academics and chose to pursue their associate degrees instead. If they're able to graduate from their new institutions, each player will have two years of eligibility left, along with one redshirt year, if they chose to return to Tech.
Williamson officially signed his letter of intent with ASA College in Brooklyn on Wednesday, despite never setting eyes on the campus.
"It was a hard process, but I've got to go through it and learn from it," Williamson said.
Williamson's coach at Arsenal Technical says the process is heartbreaking for his star player. Tony Henderson describes Williamson as being very "gung-ho" about attending Virginia Tech, throwing a party with orange and maroon cupcakes when he made his decision about Tech last December.
"He was actually really hurt when he realized he didn't make the grades to go. He probably called me six times the day the grades came out on his report card," Henderson said. "I think had we gotten a hold of him maybe at the start of his junior year, he would have qualified. We got tutors for him, he's just a little bit of a different learner."
Henderson says that Williamson put forth a monumental effort to bump up his GPA and test scores over the past year, but ultimately fell just short in both areas.
"He had his best grades ever this year," Williamson said. "With him it came down to his last grades and last test score, he barely by the skin of his teeth did not make it."
Once he missed the cut, the Hokies stepped in to help him find an alternative.
Chuck Cantor, the team's director of player personnel, is no stranger to the New York area from his days as wide receivers coach at Long Island University's C.W. Post Campus.
That means Cantor was perfectly positioned to connect Williamson with ASA's staff.
"I've known Coach Cantor for years, when he was at C.W. Post he recruited our school and then when he was at Temple, that continued," said Chris Boden, the head coach at ASA College. "When we heard from them that Adonis would have issues qualifying, they thought this would be a good place for him."
Williamson says he's planning to head to campus "around the second week of July," and Boden expects that they'll have him graduated within the next one and a half years or so.
"We work on a trimester schedule, and so he'll spend three or four of those here and get out in either one and a half or one and two thirds of a year," Boden said. "Hopefully he can be out in time to get to Tech in May that year and get in their strength and conditioning program."
Williamson is hoping to get his degree on the shorter of those two timelines.
"I'm going to get through it in a year and a half," Williamson said.
But in his time with the Avengers, Boden says Williamson should prove to be a vital asset.
"He's got tremendous upside, there's no doubt he's a Division I free safety," Boden said. "He seemed really nice on the phone, his mom is clearly working her tail off to help him get what he needs. He should fit right in here."
Tech's coaches have a simple message for Williamson for his time at ASA.
"They just want me to go down there, just learn and keep playing football and don't get hurt," Williamson said.
While he's there, Williamson will actually get the chance to face off against his former teammate and longtime friend. ASA will play Whitehead's new school, Nassau Community College, to close out its season on November 7.
Whitehead himself declined to comment on his move to Nassau, saying Tech's coaches "don't want me to talk about it right now," but Henderson says he faces a similar situation as Williamson.
"Eric is a non-qualifier for the NCAA and the coach from that school, the D-line coach, he probably called me back in January, just to kind of to let Eric know that they like him," Henderson said.
As it became clear that Whitehead's grades and test scores wouldn't be up to snuff, Cantor started to make the interest mutual through his connections at the school.
Cantor's job at LIU C.W. Post put him just 20 minutes away from Nassau's campus, and his time recruiting a 2016 prospect on campus there for the Hokies gave him his first introduction to head coach Joseph Osovet.
"They came in to recruit (OT) Malcolm Pridgeon, which sort of started up our connections with them," Osovet said.
That made it an easy pitch for the Lions to take on a player with Whitehead's abilities once it seemed that he'd need some time at the JUCO level. The team announced that he'd be joining the program via Twitter on May 21.
"With guys like that that have trouble passing the clearinghouse, they know they can come out here and have a second chance," Osovet said. "We try to get them ready to have a major college impact right away."
Like ASA College, Osovet says it generally takes players anywhere from one to two years to come away with their degrees.
"Guys here are generally done in two to four semesters," Osovet said. "Coming to a junior college just kind of wipes the slate clean for them. It's a 'get out of jail free card.'"
But Henderson warns that such a jarring change might not be the best thing for Whitehead at this point.
"Who knows what's going to happen when you take Eric Whitehead out of Indianapolis and put him in Nassau County, New York. It's going to be a different situation," Henderson said. "No one is going to follow him there, it's not like he's going to Notre Dame or Virginia Tech, no one is going to follow you around. You're going to be at junior college on your own, and what you get is what you put into it."
Henderson hopes that he makes the most of the next two years or so to do a little maturing.
"I told him to make sure to take it seriously, go to the conditioning and the weight room and not do dumb stuff, and if he does that, then eventually he'll play for the Hokies," Henderson said. "If he doesn't, he'll be in the same boat he is now."
Osovet hopes to help him take full advantage of his time at Nassau and and grows his substantial talents.
"He's really explosive and plays with great leverage, and usually you have to teach that," Osovet said. "It's rare to get a kid that plays with his kind of explosiveness and pad level."
Whitehead and Williamson surely expected to be working on these aspects of their games in Blacksburg rather than New York, but the pair will still have each other to lean on as they make the move to the Empire State.
"They'll get together every now and then," Henderson said. "I could definitely see Eric wanting to come into Manhattan and then into Brooklyn."