Jon Wilner of the Mercury News revealed some shocking news on July 28, moments after Bay Area College Football Media Day ended. Tyler Winston, a San Jose State wide receiver entering his senior year, will miss the 2016 season due to academic ineligibility. Head coach Ron Caragher told Wilner that he expects Winston to participate on the scout team and return to competition in 2017 as a redshirt senior.
Winston has 1,920 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns in his three-year career. Fans need not panic: The team is stacked at wide receiver, with three experienced players returning this year, senior Tim Crawley and sophomores Justin Holmes and Thai Cottrell. Sophomores Tre Hartley and Rahshead Johnson could also step up, both having participated in the scout team last year. Johnson also brings much potential, as a former four-star recruit out of high school who transferred to San Jose State from USC. Two freshmen, Bailey Gaither and Ray Surry, come off redshirt seasons and bring six-foot heights similar to Winston. Four true freshmen and a junior college transfer also provide more depth to the position.
Also, this team is well-prepared for an offense without Winston. San Jose State played the final five games of 2015, including the Cure Bowl, without Winston, after he was injured during the game against New Mexico on Oct. 24. Winston’s injury also kept him out of the spring game this past April. The team has had more than enough time to form its offense without Winston. Younger receivers like Johnson and Cottrell will gain experience and potentially earn starting spots, the same way Winston did in 2013 after senior Noel Grigsby suffered a season-ending injury.
It would be irresponsible to speculate what exactly Winston did to become academically ineligible. Still, given that Winston will miss an entire season, whatever caused his ineligibility must have been a serious violation of academic eligibility standards. Also, the athletics compliance office at San Jose State, or practically any college, does not make decisions lightly, especially given how severe the consequences of violating NCAA rules can be.
Furthermore, Winston’s case is more of the exception than the rule. Most student-athletes at San Jose State do keep up with their academics and graduate on time. In fact, a record 59 student-athletes earned university academic honors in this year’s honors convocation. Also, the football program reached a historically high Academic Progress Rate of 975 in 2015, and this year, the team had the top APR of the three Cal State FBS football programs for the fifth straight year. In another era, horror stories such as multiple football players missing the season opener due for academic reasons were common. Thanks to the reforms instituted by athletic director Tom Bowen and others nearly a decade ago, student-athletes at San Jose State have achieved an unprecedented level of academic success.
For all the academic advisors’ guidance to student-athletes on which classes to take, which major to choose, and so forth, it is ultimately on the student-athletes to execute—a word you have heard often from people like Ron Caragher and Dave Wojcik—and turn words into results. Winston, unfortunately, did not do so, and he now has to own the consequences. We interviewed Winston last August after the fall scrimmage, and he gave us a good personal impression. So it is reasonable to believe Winston will learn from this experience and catch up academically. This incident should also send the message to other players that no one on the team is immune to the rules, even if they are regular starters who are approaching 2,000 career receiving yards.
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