HARRISONBURG – On Friday afternoon, former Spotswood High School quarterback Willie Lam was called into a meeting at Hargrave Military Academy and told the coaching job he accepted in February was no more — the school had decided to discontinue its nationally recognized postgraduate football program.
The sudden decision then trickled down to East Rockingham coach Donnie Coleman.
He broke the news to wide receiver John Wright and running back Sharif Price – a pair of seniors who made verbal commitments to Hargrave this month.
“Obviously, they’re out of a school right now,” Coleman said Monday. “We’re working on it. We’ve already started a new process today. We had some fallbacks, a couple fallbacks they had planned on there, but obviously it was a shock.
“Coach Lam is a good friend of mine and, obviously, he’s out of a job, too.”
Hargrave Military Academy, located in Chatham, announced its decision to end the program that churned out NFL talents such as now-retired Rams wide receiver Torry Holt and current San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers and linebacker Ahmad Brooks via press release Friday, citing the changing landscape of postgraduate athletes and football programs.
Specifically, Hargrave pointed to colleges’ “desire to have their student-athletes on campus by spring semester,” meaning cadets were departing for four-year college football programs after one semester. By arriving at their college destinations in January rather than August, football players get to take part in spring football, giving them a head-start on their freshman seasons in the fall.
Other obstacles in keeping the football program, Hargrave said, were recent NCAA restrictions on games between postgrad programs and college teams.
For Price and Wright, the decision meant going back to the drawing board. But Coleman was optimistic that each would find an opportunity, perhaps as early as May 4. That’s when both Eagles will attend a post-graduate combine for Jireh Prep in Matthews, N.C.
“They’re disappointed, as is everybody,” Coleman said, later noting that Wright could still choose to attend Division III Emory & Henry. “… It’s not good. It’s not the end of the world. If a kid wants to go play football, there’s tons of opportunities out there.”
Jireh recruiting coordinator Scott McConnell, who worked at Hargrave for the past four seasons before switching schools in January, said about five athletes who committed to Hargrave plan to attend Jireh’s combine.
“Our students [at Jireh] do their academics starting on the first Monday of August and they get their credits done by December,” said McConnell. “At Hargrave, they didn’t finish in December. They finished in the third week of January.”
Hargrave athletic director Tim Oditt could not be reached for comment Monday, but he cited a variety of issues Friday.
“It was going to have us shift from having our postgraduate football players here for a year to only half a year, so that way these guys could get onto their college experiences,” Oditt told the Lynchburg News & Advance. “That was certainly a challenge for us to get our hands around and to effectively administrate our program. It’s also gotten incredibly difficult for us to schedule games; that has a lot to do with the NCAA rules and the fact that we can no longer play on the college campuses and also we could no longer play college junior-varsity teams.”
In the past, Hargrave has played junior-varsity teams at nearby Division I programs, such as Virginia Tech, Marshall or West Virginia. The Tigers haven’t been allowed to play such teams since 2009, instead relying on Division II and III schools to fill a schedule.
The poor timing of Hargrave’s decision seemed to bother Lam the most.
“I really do feel bad for the parents,” Lam said. “You have no idea how many phone calls and e-mails I’ve gotten over the weekend. … It’s a tough time. It’s in the 11th hour here for the prep school routes.”
Amid trying to help commits find other opportunities, Lam said he put in a rare phone call to his former college coach on Monday in an effort to find a new coaching job. That was Jim Caldwell, the ex-Wake Forest skipper turned Super Bowl-winning offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens.
Troy Davis, Hargrave’s coach for the past three years who has ties to Penn State as a former player, is also helping Lam land a new job.
“I made a lot of sacrifices in my life and my wife’s life to come [to Hargrave] and start coaching,” Lam said. “Had I known this was going to happen, there’s no way I would’ve went.
“… I’m just concerned and feel really bad for the kids and their families just because of the timing of the whole thing. John and Sharif are two great kids and I was looking forward to coaching them. It’s just really unfortunate.”