Once in a blue moon, Grant Page would hear that voice. He’d see a firing or a hiring or a transfer in college football, and the coach’s words would start ringing in his ears again.
College football, a mentor at Fairview High School had told him early on in the recruiting game, is a business.
It was a reminder. Be careful out there, kid. Nothing’s promised.
“It’s definitely very different,” said Page, the 6-foot-3 wide receiver who flipped from a summer 2021 commitment to Nebraska to signing with his hometown CU Buffs this past Wednesday. “It’s kind of scary.”
Early National Signing Day for CU and the CSU Rams, the unofficial high point for another bowl-less winter in Boulder and Fort Collins, wasn’t so much scary as — well, weird. And a little wild.
Page’s last-minute switch from the Cornhuskers to the Buffs gave CU fans some red meat to wave in the faces of their Big Red pals to the east.
CSU, behind new coach Jay Norvell, used a radical shift in philosophy to launch a radical overhaul of the Rams roster — 11 transfers, nine from Nevada, Norvell’s prior stop, along with 11 prep recruits, five of whom flipped from the Wolf Pack to the Rams.
“There (are) a lot of hard decisions that have to be made in this process, this transition,” Norvell noted on signing day. “It’s not my job to make everybody happy. It just isn’t.”
College football is a business.
So how come, for some of the families involved, the last few days have felt more than a little personal?
“He’s had UCLA, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Nebraska already offering him,” Anthony Pacozzi said of his son, Vincent, an offensive lineman who played four games for CSU this past fall, starting three, as a senior transfer from Temple.
“Don’t tell me my kid can’t play on your team. You didn’t give him a chance, Coach. You don’t think my kid can pass block? Who are you kidding?”
Pacozzi has — well, had — two sons, Vincent and Nick, on the Rams roster. He knows he’s going to come off as a bitter parent with an axe to grind. He gets it. He’s been through regime changes before.
Coaches want their guys. And thanks to the transfer portal and the new NCAA guidelines that allow immediate eligibility after one transfer, many of those guys can now play right away.
But what makes a father frustrated is the speed at which those roster makeovers can be dispatched.
Anthony said Vincent, a left guard who played four games before an injury, and Nick, a tight end who’d also transferred in from Temple, were told by Norvell last week that the Rams coach didn’t see them as fits going forward. It happens.
“(Vincent) was working, interning, at one of the local insurance companies for an ex-(Rams) player. The guy offered him a job when he graduated,” Anthony said. “Vincent was planning on staying out in Colorado. He’s like, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m not coming back (east), I love it out here.’ When CSU did this, I’m like, ‘Really, guys?’
“I almost don’t blame (Norvell) as much as I blame the administration, because they can sit there and say, ‘You’re not doing this to the student-athletes … the school should have said, ‘No, you’re not a clearinghouse, (moving) the student-athletes, that’s not right.’”
But as Norvell pointed out earlier in the week, that’s the new reality. And FBS coaches were given even more latitude for roster overhauls recently when the NCAA passed a 1-year waiver allowing them to sign as many as seven players beyond the 25-slot cap, as long as those seven spots are used to replace players who leave school “after the first term.”
The waiver came as a direct response to the sheer quantity of student-athletes who chose to enter the transfer portal over the last two years, as well as the quality — a group that recently included former Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, who joined South Carolina, and former Ohio State quarterback Quinn Ewers, who signed with Texas.
“A majority of my coaches, they don’t like the direction this is headed,” Todd Berry, the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Louisiana-Monroe, Army and Illinois State, told The Post recently. “Because they recognize that this is the NFL without rules or regulations.
“It’s a by-product of everything that has been created. And I don’t know why everybody around (college sports) is surprised, because everything that we said was going to happen is happening.”
While CSU officials confirmed that Norvell has a free hand to conduct evaluations of the Rams’ 2021 roster and incoming recruits, they disagreed with the elder Pacozzi’s assertions..
“Our commitment to student-athlete welfare is comprehensive and includes fulfillment of their undergraduate degree as long as they remain academically eligible,” CSU athletic director Joe Parker said in a statement released to The Post.
“Roster decisions remain primarily with our head coaches, and we have supported Coach Norvell’s evaluation of the roster. These can sometimes be difficult discussions for parents, but we have always been sympathetic and supportive in those conversations. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply not true.”
The Rams have frozen some scholarships, including those offered to in-state players by former coach Steve Addazio, until Norvell completes his coaching staff. The new CSU coach said this past Wednesday that he wanted his defensive coordinator to have input regarding any new additions on that side of the ball.
“First of all, I don’t worry about anything,” Norvell said when asked about potential blowback from Colorado high school coaches. “I really don’t. Second of all, the only way I know how to deal with things is being honest … I spent my whole career trying to help kids. I don’t want any kid to miss out on an opportunity.
“But the reality is, we’ve been here for seven or eight days, it’s our job and my responsibility, going forward — when we line up and play in September, you ain’t going to be worried about where these kids are from, and what high school, and all that. You want to see this team play. And win.”
College football is a business.
For Page, that advice really hit home at the start of December. That’s when Nebraska football coach Scott Frost shook up his staff and brought in another former Cornhuskers quarterback, Mickey Joseph, from LSU to act as the Big Red’s receivers coach and passing game coordinator.
Page, one of the top senior prospects in Colorado, had committed to join Nebraska in part because of his rapport with Joseph’s predecessor, Matt Lubick, the son of CSU Rams icon Sonny Lubick. The younger Lubick was one of four offensive coaches fired by Frost in early November as the Big Red finished 3-9, capping the program’s fifth consecutive losing season and fourth straight under Frost.
“The new coach brought in a bunch of his own guys in,” explained Page, the No. 1 in-state wide receiver prospect for the Class of ’22 according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. “So it was kind of the writing on the wall.”
That wasn’t the only reason Page elected to join the Buffs, who continued to maintain a relationship with the 6-foot-3 high-flyer even after he originally committed to Nebraska last June.
And yet …
“It definitely impacted my decision,” Page said. “There were a bunch of changes made up in Lincoln. I just thought it was best for me to stay home.
“Coach Frost said he would honor my scholarship, whoever the (new receivers coach) would be. I heard that their receivers’ room was pretty big. I’d heard that a couple of those kids were getting scholarships taken away.”
So, in the end, the young man did what you do in college football these days.
He made a business decision.
“(Nebraska was) good with it,” Page said. “They knew it was the best for me.”
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