STARKVILLE — Brian Cole and Chauncey Rivers came to Mississippi State as proven commodities. Both had been in Division I football before, Cole at Michigan and Rivers at Georgia, before coming together for a season at East Mississippi Community College.
Yet, they were forced to redshirt, on equal plane with those overwhelmed with their first look at college football.
The experience of an academic redshirt is different from that of the traditional redshirt, and Cole and Rivers shared that experience with The Dispatch.
The academic redshirt was created in 2012. The NCAA’s website does not contain a simple definition for an academic redshirt, but the differences between the standards for a fully qualified athlete and one who qualifies as an academic redshirt ultimately define it. Full qualifiers complete 16 core courses, ten of them before their final semester and seven of them in math, English or a natural/physical science; academic redshirts merely complete 16 core courses, no other qualifiers. Full qualifiers complete those courses with at least 2.3 grade point average, academic redshirts do so with a GPA of at least 2.0. Those are the standards for athletes coming from high school, but similar expectations for college athletes exist.
Rivers and Cole both said MSU did not hold them to a different academic standard than their teammates last year. In that sense, there is no difference between the academic redshirt and the traditional redshirt, mostly given to freshmen not ready for college football yet; the approach to the redshirt year is where they differentiate themselves.
“My approach to my redshirt was totally different because I had to go about it where I knew the game of football and I knew the playbook, but I had to make myself better as an individual and help my image off the field,” Rivers said. “It was tough for both of us, to be honest, and it was tough for the team because we were supposed to be in the rotation.”
Cole added, “I was working for this year. I wasn’t taking it light, I was trying to learn and go as hard as I can to prepare myself for now.”
They knew that was the only option they had, so they dedicated themselves to it. Even when it was hard to do.
Rivers remembers well the fall Fridays, when the team would load up the buses to leave for a road game or get their things ready for a home game, just for he and Cole to be in the weight room.
It reached the point where Rivers’ job was just as much about preparing his teammates for 2017 season as it was to prepare himself for 2018. Rivers said he took on some tough scout team jobs, such as playing Kentucky’s Josh Allen and Alabama’s Da’Shawn Hand; Allen was top 20 in the Southeastern Conference with 10.5 tackles for a loss and top 10 with 7 sacks.
“(Former MSU) coach (Dan) Mullen and (current defensive line) coach (Brian) Baker did a phenomenal job helping me out, helping me understand my role was to help the offensive line get better, push them every day,” Rivers said. “If I had to play the best player on their defensive line, I did that so I could give them the best look possible. It made me better and helps me out to this day.
“Whoever gave the most threats on the defensive line, I played. It’s always fun terrorizing an offensive line.”
Cole took a different route. As he looks back on the fall of 2017, he walks away with one thing MSU will put to good use.
“Confidence,” Cole said. “It’s a lot with leverages, what offenses do, tendencies, trying to be better mentally and understanding the game better, slowing the game down.”
Now they are improved versions of the players that should have been on the field in 2017 — with axes to grind. For reasons not related to their athletic abilities, they had a year of performance taken away from them. It will be in their minds when they finally get their chance.
“It’s still frustrating now. It’s not easy,” Cole said. “I came a long way. I feel like God had brought me this far not to fail.”
As Rivers put it: “I wouldn’t say lost time, but….it’s lost time.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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