Sometime on Monday, Dennis Underwood of Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas High School will learn his fate for his senior season. At stake is his eligibility for the upcoming 2004 season on the gridiron.
"We actually find out (Monday) sometime during the day, hopefully," said Aquinas head coach Tim Tyrrell. "I would say it's a 50-50 chance."
The decision is in the hands of the courts now after the Underwood family appealed the expected decision to rule Underwood ineligible because he turned 19 before Aug. 1.
Underwood went through the Canton city schools up until the 8th grade and went to STA as a freshman. His parents held him back in the second grade because he wasn't doing good grade-wise and he started school late age-wise anyways.
The teachers at STA thought he might have some type of learning disability when he came there.
"By the end of his freshman year, he was average to below average grade-wise but was constantly studying. He just wasn't getting the grades," Tyrrell said. "So our guidance counselors had him tested for a learning disability and we found out he was LD and was diagnosed with an IAP (IAP is a type of LD). So he was diagnosed with that at the end of his freshman year before his sophomore year."
At the end of Underwood's sophomore year, the OHSAA was consulted on the matter, and according to Tyrrell, they were told that the school would have to wait until February (2004) to file for Underwood's fourth year of eligibility. He turned 19 in February.
"Through the appeal process, OHSAA, which they always do, said no," Tyrrell said. "Then the family had the right to appeal and the family appealed. It's nothing going through the school and that's why it goes through the court system, so that's what we're waiting on right now."
Tyrrell made it clear that they've known all along that Underwood's eligibility would be in questioned at this time so it wasn't a surprise in any way.
"It's up to the judge now and we knew about this all along," the coach said. "The thing that I don't like about the whole thing is that so many people, whether on the Internet or in the paper in the area, were throwing out facts that weren't true."
In particular, Tyrrell stated that Underwood would only be 19-years-old while he was playing football not 20.
"He would not be playing football at age 20. Like anyone else that turned 19 after Aug. 1, he still would only be 19 years old," he said. "The thing that Dennis' lawyer is asking for is the fact that he could play sports up until he's not 19 anymore. They're not asking that he can play sports as a 20-year old like a freshman in college."
Regardless of the ruling now, Underwood will continue his education at Aquinas and get his high school diploma.
"His mom and him have made the decision; they started at Aquinas and they fell in love with it," Tyrrell said. "His younger brother is here and older brother graduated from here. They're huge supporters of Aquinas. No matter what happens, he's still going to stay a part of our football team and be a leader in some capacity and graduate from St. Thomas and then go on and hopefully have a good college career."
Despite the LD status, Underwood has scored a 17 on the ACT and has a 2.7 GPA, so his eligibility at the next level isn't in question.
"He's fine. His paperwork will actually be issued through the clearinghouse this fall and he shouldn't have a problem at all," Tyrrell said. "Because of the LD program with the IAP, he does very well in the class room. With the IAP, you usually just need some extra studying time or the tutor usually has to show him different ways of studying.
"Grade-wise he's a good student," Tyrrell said. "It's just in his younger years he didn't know how to study and no one actually tested him, and he didn't know how to get things done because of his disability."
Tyrrell, who was a senior under Jim Tressel on the 1997 national championship team at Youngstown State, praised Underwood for the perseverance that he has displayed throughout this trying ordeal.
"I can't speak for him, but I played football, and I know it would be really hard on anybody if somebody told me that I wasn't allowed to play my senior year of high school," the coach said. "It's been on his mind for a long time and it's been rough for him, but he's a very positive person. He doesn't let anybody know what he's feeling. He always stays positive around his team. He's a big leader on our football team. If you saw him in the weight room now or with his teammates, you would never know anything was ever wrong."
Underwood is still working out like he's still on the team until he's told otherwise.
"He's in the weight room every day and doing all the conditioning and everything else," Tyrrell said. "If things go well for him, which we're praying for, he'll be playing tailback again and he'll be playing at strong safety this year on defense."
Underwood ran for 1,300 yards last year and had 15 touchdowns. For the time being, he'll be out on the field when Acquinas begins their double sessions on Monday at 7:00 a.m.
"We were suppose to get an answer on Friday and they postponed it until tomorrow, so I have no idea. They might put it off again who knows," Tyrrell said. "It's a yes or no."