Panther Creek athlete victim of dishonesty at Davidson College

Football player Trevor Fick (2015) verbally committed, but some behind the scenes action by the Davidson College coaching staff and admissions office left Fick as a victim in the end.

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Panther Creek athlete victim of dishonesty at Davidson College

Ian Pierno, Sports Editor

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CARY – “He told me ‘your next game you play in is going to be Division I, we’re excited to have you.’”

Panther Creek senior tight end Trevor Fick was filled with pride, his dream of playing college football had been achieved.

So he thought.

On the morning of Jan. 28, Fick was awake bright and early, reading over the itinerary sent to him by Davidson College head football coach Paul Nichols for the official visit he was set to make the upcoming weekend to the school he verbally committed to via phone call less than two weeks earlier on Jan.16.

Fick on his second unofficial visit to Davidson College (15 January 2015)

Fick on his second unofficial visit to Davidson College (15 January 2015)

The visit meant that Fick would officially be a Davidson Wildcat, and that all his applications to other schools would be rescinded. It meant his years of hard work on the field and in the classroom had been rewarded. Fick knew where he would be furthering his education.

“People I hadn’t talked to in years wished me luck and congratulated me,” Fick said. “My relatives even started sending me Davidson gear.”

“I had already been talking to other recruits talking about rooming together and meeting one another.”

Many seniors in high school, athletes and non-athletes alike, reveal the day they commit to a college as one of the best days of their lives, knowing they have the weight of where they’ll continue their education off of their shoulders, a sense of security.

“I felt so relieved to be set on a school,” Fick said.

Three hours after reading over his itinerary, Fick received a phone call from Davidson’s defensive line coach and head of recruiting for the Raleigh area, Anthony Antonacci, telling Fick to not bother packing his bags, as he had been rejected by the Davidson admissions office.

Hepp and I talked…and he said ‘This never happens, you never tell a guy you want him and he’s good, we have you all set and then it turns out the university doesn’t accept you, you go through too many checks and balances for that to happen.’”

— Sean Crocker, Panther Creek varsity football coach

Fick, with a 4.65 GPA, 2010 SAT score and a 31 ACT composite score, was perplexed. Academics was the last reason he would have expected to be held back from attending a school. Upon receiving the phone call, Fick asked ten other Davidson football commits in the 2015 class for their academic statistics. The average mean scores among the ten commits was a 4.37 GPA, 1891 SAT and a 28.9 ACT score.

Fick’s family, wanting to know what went wrong, called the Davidson Dean of Admissions, Christopher Gruber, the following day. Gruber told Fick that his application had never been read and that he had no recollection of his name. Therefore, he said that no decision had been made on Fick’s application, which was still under the regular decision pile, despite Antonacci telling Fick that the application had been moved to early decision ensuing Fick’s verbal commitment.

Antonacci also made contact with Panther Creek varsity football head coach, Sean Crocker, to try and explain the situation.

“They called me and said they thought Trevor’s application had been a ‘green’ or a ‘go,’” Crocker said. “They said somehow the application had been kicked back by the university and that these things happen every once in awhile.”

 

Crocker, who has 16 years of high school coaching experience, eight as a head coach, has seen a lot of his players go through the recruiting process. “With the more academic programs, they usually wait until they get approval from the university, I’ve had some guys that have gone through recruiting from Cornell, Bucknell and some different places,” Crocker said. “I’ve never seen it where any party, whether that be the admissions department or the athletic department, say ‘Hey, he’s going to be good,’ and then have him not be.”

Antonacci left the Davidson football program in late February for unknown reasons, and declined to comment when contacted.

When Davidson football’s head coach Paul Nichols was given an opportunity to explain his side on the situation, a clearly flustered Nichols demanded  to know “Yeah, where did you get my cell phone number?” Before finding an excuse to not discuss the situation. “I’m going to have to, you know, I’m going to have to not discuss certainly a Davidson College and a Trevor Fick deal,” Nichols said.

Gruber, the Dean of Admissions who also handles football recruits’ applications, chose to not directly address Fick’s situation. “To be honest, I’m not going to comment on that, it’s not my place.”

When it comes to Davidson, whose place is it to comment on the future of a student-athlete? Is there any accountability from coaches or admissions in recruiting mishaps? Something Gruber claims “we invest, between admissions and athletics, a great deal of time to make sure is done well because it’s important for all of us.” 

Fick featured at http://www.newsobserver.com/sports/high-school/preps-now-blog/article10290950.html

Fick featured at http://www.newsobserver.com/sports/high-school/preps-now-blog/article10290950.html

Gruber went on to explain the instability of the recruiting process from a coach’s point-of-view, comparing it to a baseball team’s batting order. “Let’s think of a batting order. If all of a sudden [coaches] are hot to bring in this kid who is No. 3, then all of a sudden No. 2 comes along and says ‘Hey, I really have an interest now in coming to your place,’ well what happens then to No. 3? They drop down in terms of that priority,” Gruber said. “So there is some different shuffling and things like that do take place in a coach’s world and I think some of that is natural, but some of it does have a stinging effect that can come from that in different cases as well.”

So in Fick’s case, did this mean that “batter number two” came around and the Davidson coaching staff had no other way to do the “different shuffling” on their recruiting board than to tell Fick he had been rejected by the admissions office following his verbal commitment?

Gruber acknowledged that despite being a school that offers no athletic scholarships for football (neither do any other schools in the Pioneer Football Conference), Davidson College still expects high-performance from their athletic teams that are competing at a Division-I level. “With coaches, there’s going to be two sides to every story, but also know coaches are trying to bring in the best students they can for their team with the pressure to win, because that’s what [coaches] are judged on,” Gruber said.

Football coaches are pressured to win, because winning means more students are purchasing merchandise and filling the stands each Saturday. For Davidson College, that resulted in $1,480,393 in revenue via the football program and $293,946 in profits according to college-sports.pointafter.com. There’s more than a reputation on the line for football coaches to win at the academically-focused, nonprofit university. The tweet has since been deleted, but Nichols publicly wished to finish strong in recruiting one day before the coaching staff called Fick to say he was no longer a part of their future plans despite his commitment.

Gruber explained what Davidson calls the “likely call,” a sort of empty promise to Davidson recruits or commits. “You know, there’s different semantics in terms of what coaches can offer. What a coach can say is ‘we would love to have you on our team,’ and if the coaches want to push that and it’s a person that the admissions office believes would do well, we will then get that student to complete an application and we will then give them a call that is a called a ‘likely call,’ which says to the student that … ‘based on what we’ve reviewed in your application tells us that we think you could do very well. Your official notification will take place at the regular deadline dates which are depending on different dates which could take place in the fall or in the spring, but we want you to know now you could have a place here,’” Gruber said.

Fick assumed he had received the “likely call” when the financial aid office contacted him in late December. “I was given a very extensive financial aid estimate down to the dollar that I would receive once I was admitted,” Fick said. “It seemed as likely as it can get.”

Gruber described coaches and the admissions office as working “hand-in-glove,” but contradicted that statement, admitting coaches may give a player a little too much hope before the admissions office has looked into the recruit.

“Now are there coaches that have perhaps overly-encouraged in some cases and then ultimately that student is not offered admission? I think that happens everywhere,” Gruber said. “We look to minimize that from happening as much possible…but if I were to tell you has that never happened, no, it definitely has happened.”

Fick on the field as a captain before kickoff against Holly Springs. Panther Creek won the game 24-7 (30 October 2015).

Fick on the field as a captain before kickoff against Holly Springs. Panther Creek won the game 24-7 (30 October 2014).

Crocker spoke to someone with experience working at the Division-I level in Panther Creek High School’s athletic director, L.J. Hepp, who told him that this doesn’t happen everywhere as Gruber claimed.

“(Hepp) and I talked and he said that he worked at Stanford for awhile with the basketball program and he said ‘this never happens, you never tell a guy you want him and he’s good, we have you all set and then it turns out the university doesn’t accept you, you go through too many checks and balances for that to happen,’” Crocker said.

To Fick, it all began to make sense.

“Gruber told my family that he had never seen my application and had no recollection of my name when we called following [Antonacci’s] contact telling me I had been rejected,” Fick said. “It just didn’t add up, somewhere, there’s someone not being honest.”

Gruber admitted that a “likely” recruit could be dismissed from their prospective position at Davidson due to academic mishaps.

“Some of it could be that a student has not achieved as they’ve gone on or they’ve changed their schedule.”

Fick would eventually receive an official rejection letter in March, one that finalized the fiasco.

Fick has spent the second semester of his senior year enrolled in two advanced placement classes, as well as honors English, a schedule that impressed Northeastern University, the 42nd ranked college in the nation by U.S. News, as well as the school that Fick will study bioengineering for the next four years.

“He’s a quality person that’ll do anything for anybody,” Crocker said. “He’s a high academic guy, great student and person who continues to give. The way he’s handled this situation says a lot about him.”

Crocker will continue to help players interested in playing at Davidson in the future, but will do so with caution.

“I have to make sure that players, parents, and I are on top of the admission process to avoid what happened to Trevor,” Crocker said. “It was not his fault, but we can’t let the admission process be in the hands of the football program … without us being involved every step of the way.”

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