The NCAA has ruled MTSU football player and former U.S. Marine Steven Rhodes will be eligible to play for the Blue Raiders.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of academic and membership affairs, said:
"As a part of its continued review of Steven Rhodes' eligibility, NCAA staff determined he may play immediately. Additionally, he will maintain all four years of his eligibility.
"Throughout this process, NCAA staff worked closely with Middle Tennessee State University, and we appreciate the school's partnership.
"As a part of the ongoing review of NCAA rules, our members will examine the organized competition rules, especially as it impacts those returning from military service.
"We thank Steven for his service to our country and wish him the best as he begins college."
MTSU President Dr. Sidney McPhee said in a statement:
"We were informed this afternoon that the NCAA has granted full approval to Steven Rhodes' waiver. This is exciting news for Steven and Middle Tennessee State University. We express our gratitude to the NCAA for reviewing this situation and granting Steven the ability to play this fall. We are hopeful that the NCAA will look at the bylaws regarding all individuals who serve in the military before becoming a student-athlete."
Football player appeals ruling
Steven Rhodes knew the transition from the U.S. Marines to being a college football player would be tough.
But he didn't expect it would be harder to play college football.
"I'm going to keep my attitude positive about it and keep pushing toward success," said Steven Rhodes, who served in the Marines Corps for five years before enrolling this fall at Middle Tennessee State University and joining the football team as a walk-on.
Rhodes has been ruled ineligible to participate this season by the NCAA because he played recreational football while serving his country.
"I thought it would be an advantage," said Rhodes. "It didn't turn out that way."
The NCAA ruled that Rhodes' play in games at the Marine base counted as organized competition because there were game officials, team uniforms and a score was kept.
"About two years ago, my dream of getting into the NFL was reignited," said Rhodes. "I just tried to do everything I could to get to that goal."
That determination led Rhodes to MTSU. He is a walk-on on the football team, which means he's not on scholarship and has to pay his own way.
Shortly after he arrived on campus, MTSU officials learned he would not be eligible to play.
"Initially [the NCAA] said he couldn't play this year and he would lose two years of eligibility because of those 12 games he played over the course of two years," said MTSU football head coach Rick Stockstill.
"I could understand the NCAA's point if he accepted money, if he was on TV and all that stuff. But he's a young man that's served our country."
The university appealed the NCAA's original ruling and got back Rhodes' full eligibility, but the organization said he still had to sit out this season.
"The NCAA has provided an initial review of the case and will continue to work with the university," said NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn. "The process is ongoing and a final decision has not yet been made."
It's unknown at this time if Rhodes will be able to play this season, but on the practice field Rhodes remains determined.
"I just got to step out on a leap of faith and keep pushing as if I know I'm going to play on the 29th," said Rhodes.
MTSU opens its 2013 season Aug. 29 at home against Western Carolina.
An athletic department spokesman said the school hopes to hear from the NCAA in the coming weeks concerning Rhodes having to redshirt.
Stockstill said with Rhodes' eligibility in question, he's no longer getting as much practice time since it's unknown if he's going to be able to play.
Stockstill told The Daily News Journal, our news partners, that Rhodes would play some role for the Blue Raiders this season if he became eligible.
"There's no doubt he can help us on special teams, and then we can find a place for him," Stockstill told the DNJ. "He is learning defensive end, and he looks like he can come off the edge. We could always move him back to offense and develop him there, maybe do that next spring. But hopefully he gets eligible this season.
Stockstill said he would like nothing more than to see Rhodes run through the tunnel at the Aug. 29 season opener.
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