During that gray shirt year an athlete can spend their time training and becoming a better athlete without using a year of eligibility.
From the academic side, Barajas sees a gray shirt year as a time where an athlete can become a better student because he or she does not have to worry about playing a sport.
“I usually recommend a student not to take 12 units, and not to compete their first year if they are not at college level in English and math,” Barajas said. “To be fair to the student, and give them the best possible opportunity, they should really hold off a year, so that when they start their clock they are able to move forward and move on just like any other student would be able to.”
To gray shirt, a student would take up to 11 units during the first two semesters of college. Twelve units or more is considered full-time. A student can take courses during the summer and winter sessions, so they can still be on course to graduate on time after the gray shirt year. A student can gray shirt and still have 30 units under their belt heading into their second year of college, before they even step on the field or court. That is halfway to graduation.
Athletes who take the junior college route also have to realize that they may be in that situation because they were not a good student. If they did not qualify for college right out of high school, they need to make some major adjustments academically.
“Most kids who don’t qualify out of high school, they weren’t good students in high school,” Ali said. “There’s not going to be a drastic change when they have way more freedom to become this great student all of a sudden. They’re in that situation because they lack study habits. They lack time management skills. It is very challenging, but it can be done. I did it. I went to Bakersfield Junior College, I signed a Division I scholarship to Cal State Northridge, I graduated in ‘94. It can be done, but man, it’s like a serious journey and a serious grind.”
Barajas has seen students who made a major academic turnaround.
“They have to really set their mind to it,” Barajas said. “I had a student who hasn’t always done well. It’s not that he’s not capable, he’s just never put his mind to it. He’s made a conscious effort and now he’s doing very well.
“I’ve seen a lot of students not know how to deal with time management. They end up hanging out with their friends because they think that they have all this time, but then they never get to the library to study. Then they end up not doing well. Time management is directly tied into their goals, and how they are going to carry those goals out.”
Both Ali and Barajas recommend that athletes take advantage of what the school has to offer, and to take the classes more seriously than they did in high school.
“As long as they take advantage of the resources on the campus, and implement a serious time management situation for themselves, then the sky is the limit,” Ali said. “That’s what I had to do. I had to refocus. It wasn’t like high school, where I didn’t have to study to get an A or a B on an exam. College is not like that. It’s way more reading, so you have to apply that reading time, or it’s not going to work.”
It is also extremely important to work with the college counselor. Barajas has seen students who selected classes based on the units needed, but those classes ended up being non-transferable. Those students ended up wasting valuable time on classes that did not help them make it to a university.
The road has not come to an end for athletes who did not obtain a college scholarship, but with proper planning and becoming a better student, these athletes can still realize their dreams of playing big time college sports while getting their education paid for.