In early June, the NCAA dropped some major news regarding the activation of redshirts in the college football world.
The amendment stated that the redshirt rule – which originally noted players who participated in a single game would lose that year of eligibility – now “allows players to play in up to four games per year without losing a season of eligibility.”
Furthermore, those four games can be non-consecutive throughout the season – meaning a potential redshirt candidate can take snaps in any combination of contests before a coaching staff decides to create an extra year of eligibility.
For a team like Murray State and fourth-year head coach Mitch Stewart, this is music to the ears for a multitude of reasons.
“Guys that can help you, you have the ability now to put those guys on the bus and let them take snaps,” he said. “The reason that's so important for me is, some people (will) use it on the front end and use it to get better evaluations (there) – which I think that's great and we're going to do that, too. But mainly for us it's on the back end, where we get into those eighth, ninth, 10th weeks of the season and you've got some dudes banged up.
“In the past, it was 'I'm not going to pull the redshirt off this kid. You're going to have to tough it out.' And you put that kid out there, and he's toughing it out and toughing it out. And he can only do that for so many plays, and then he really starts to hurt the team. A) it's safer for those guys, because (it's) 'You have four snaps in you, and then I'll get you off for four snaps' and then I'll get those other guys in. It's safer for those guys, and (B) it's better for the team as a whole.”
Some other ways in which the rule can be lauded:
1) Success in FCS football is certainly reliant on the transfer of numerous FBS cast-offs and second-chancers, who – more often than not – come into Division II and Division III programs talented enough to win position battles against recruiting classes and the younger talent in the locker room. Being able to test – and then shelve – that younger, less-experienced talent can only be a boon.
2) The player evaluation process – and eventually the development chapter – only improves, as coaches can actually see their recruiting classes take in live-ball situations without the penalty of losing a year of eligibility.
3) The oft-mentioned notion of freshman and sophomores “not getting playing time” and it causing discord could quickly disappear, as guys like Stewart can now promise eager recruits a true chance of getting snaps to showcase their raw – but perhaps worthy – skill sets.
Nesler nabs a scholarship
Speaking of redshirts, it was late Sunday evening inside Murray's Roy Stewart Stadium when former Graves County Eagle and redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Levi Nesler received the news any college student wants to hear.
During a team meeting, Stewart showed a video recently filmed at Farmington Elementary – where Nesler attended, and students clapped out with chants before a final revelation from his friends and family: A full-ride from Murray State football was coming his way.
“Now let me just tell you something about ol' Levi right now,” Stewart addressed the team. “You're talking about a walk-on dude. Didn't miss a workout. Had to make his workout time this summer, right? He was working on a farm. He worked his a-- off all day. And what time did he lift every day? 4 o'clock. Didn't get no scholarship. Didn't get no check. Didn't get no rent. Nothing like that. Where was that farm at? Mayfield? So you drove 30 minutes here and 30 minutes back? Every day, right? You ever say anything to me? Come to my office? Not one word.
“Two days ago, you got taken out of practice. Why? You got rolled up on. What'd you tell them on the sideline? Why were you so mad? Because you couldn't finish practice. I'm talking (angry), because he couldn't finish practice.
“That's what it's all about right there. That's what it's all about. That one right there was easy. That one right there was easy. You deserve it.”
Late in the 2017 season, Nesler actually climbed to second-string offensive lineman as a freshman, but was never needed for a contest and eventually redshirted.
With Stewart moving him to full scholarship status, it's fair to expect Nesler to be an offensive line starter – or close to it – in 2018 and beyond.
While two special teamers – Australian punter Steve Dawson and Floridian kicker Gabe Vicente – have certainly locked down their spots as MSU's go-to guys this season, do not be surprised if someone like 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior James Sappington gets a chance to kick, as well.
And catch. And punt.
Already the team's kickoff specialist because of his booming leg, Sappington – an all-state wide receiver during his time at Raymore-Peculiar HS in Missouri – has consistently made plays during receiving situations in fall camp.
This is following his considerably strong spring, where he was catching passes in several tight-end routes in Stewart's offense.
“James Sappington is probably a kid that I don't talk about enough,” Stewart said. “This is a kid that's running tight end for us. He's probably got some of the best hands on the team. He's made a tremendous amount of plays for us at tight end. Plus, he's the backup kicker to Gabe (Vicente) and went 4-for-4 on Friday and 3-for-4 on Saturday. And he's the backup punter. And loves doing it all. Was a guy who asked me if he could move to tight end and could he get some reps at tight end. But he didn't want to stop all of his kicking.
“Plus he's our starting kickoff kicker. And that's a lot of depth and tools to play with right there.”