Steven Rhodes is eligible for MTSU's season opener on Aug. 29.(Photo: Helen Comer, USA TODAY Sports)
MURFREESBORO, TN-- Middle Tennessee State walk-on football player
and former Marine Steven Rhodes did not quite grasp how public his
battle with the NCAA had become.
Rhodes - a 24-year-old freshman who was initially denied eligibility by the NCAA
- does not even have cable TV. But he needed no help interpreting the
smile across his coach's face at practice Monday afternoon.
"Coach (Rick Stockstill) was smiling real big. I was ecstatic when he told me. I'm going to play now," said Rhodes, who was granted his immediate eligibility by an NCAA ruling Monday afternoon.
ELIGIBLE: Steven Rhodes can play right away
SUPPORT: U.S. Rep. adds voice to Rhodes' case
"This has all been crazy, but I feel like I got a whole new life now. Thank the Lord, I'm going to play football this year."
The NCAA had originally ruled that Rhodes, a Marine Sergeant who recently finished his active enlistment, had to forfeit two years of eligibility
and take a mandatory redshirt year this season because he participated
in a military-only recreational football league at a Marine base in
MTSU initially won a partial appeal last week, as the NCAA
reinstated Rhodes' two years of eligibility (for a total of four
seasons) but upheld his mandatory redshirt year. But on Monday, the NCAA
granted Rhodes' immediate eligibility after his plight went public in a big way.
Virtually every major news organization picked up Rhodes' story after it was initially broken by The Daily News Journal
in Murfreesboro on Sunday. Social media pounded away at the NCAA for
postponing a Marine's dream of playing college football, and online
petitions popped up in support of Rhodes.
Rhodes' plight drew support on Twitter from around the globe, including a supportive comment from Navy veteran and U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and an open letter from U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) to NCAA President Mark Emmert.