Making the Grades: How I Went From Big Man On Campus to Ineligible

Editor's Note: The primary benefit for playing collegiate athletics is the blend of knowledge you receive during your collegiate career, both in the classroom and on the playing field. Many times, the "STUDENT" part of Student-Athlete is not emphasized enough nor through the proper means so athletes grow into thinking that as long as they play well, grades won't matter. That is not only incorrect but that notion gets perpetuated within the high school ranks and isn't stopped because if you don't make grades, you don't play. Those people aren't sharing their stories with the high school youth so they don't fully understand the consequences, not until now. Please enjoy James' story.

Make the Grades, Don't Let
the Grades Make You

By James Springfield Jr.

Instagram: jSpringfield85

As a 17-year-old Senior football player at Wooddale High School in Memphis, Tennessee, I had it all! I had the fine girlfriend, I was one of the popular guys in school and I had the football ability and talent that garnered interest from the Tennessee Vols, Arkansas Razorbacks, Alabama Crimson Tide, and other big name schools, but what I didn’t have was the grades. I walked through the hallways at Wooddale and was constantly bombarded with compliments from my peers about how I was going to make it big time. That soon made me get caught up in my own hype and made me believe that my play on the field would get me into any college I wanted. I believed that until my coach had called me into his office.

            My coach told me that several colleges had stopped recruiting me because of my poor grades. The first thing that came out of my mouth was “but Coach, I can play. Can’t they just overlook my grades?” He laughed. He then explained that with my grades, schools wouldn’t even let me cut the grass on their campuses! I had to figure out another way to play football and more importantly get in to school. That’s when I found out about the junior college (JC) route, which would allow me to improve my grades and still play football.  Initially, I was disheartened because I felt that I was too good to play at a JC. But after speaking with my Mom, I decided to take my coach’s advice and get in contact with every JC coach I could. I received the same answer from each of them, they’d love to have me but I was too late getting in contact and their recruiting classes were already full. I found out my grades to bad too late into the JC recruiting process so I was stuck.

            At that moment I realized that I was on my own for the first time. My grades were horrible and because of that my coach couldn’t help me get into any universities. After barely graduating I felt like my whole world had been turned upside down.  I asked myself, “how did I go from one of the top recruits in the state of Tennessee to sitting at home with nothing?” At that point, I changed my mindset and was focused on getting back on the football field at all costs. I enrolled at Southwest Community College not as a Student-Athlete, but as a student and transformed myself mentally by going to every single class, taking my studies seriously, and it showed. My hard work paid off because at the end of that Fall semester I had earned a 2.8 GPA. I was doing better, but I wanted more. I knew I had to push myself harder and at the end of the year I had a 3.2 GPA and because of that I could see the light.

            My next move was to make it back on the football field. With help from my mom and my high school coach I was able to put together a bio and game film that I sent to different coaches. I sent those materials to the schools that were heavily recruiting me out of high school. Many of those coaches were hesitant to give me a chance because they did not believe that I could maintain my grades and stay eligible. My goal was to prove them all wrong. That’s when my coach brought up the University of Memphis.  He explained that Memphis was an up and coming program that just came off of a big bowl win. I was immediately interested.

           The Memphis coach was impressed with my bio and film and invited me to be a preferred walk-on. I immediately filled out the application and had my transcript sent to the school.  Within a few weeks, I received my acceptance letter and was officially a University of Memphis Tiger. While I was at U of M, I maintained a 2.9 GPA and went from a walk-on to earning a full-athletic scholarship to play the game that I love. I had a bumpy road coming out of high school and I could have given up, but I had a goal and I fought hard to achieve that goal. In the end, I made the grades; I didn’t let the grades make me!