By GREG TUFARO
Sophomore Darrion Caldwell, an NCAA All-American wrestler who asked for his release from North Carolina State University, has been granted permission to speak with three schools, including Rutgers, where he would like to continue to wrestle and possibly try to resume his football career.
It remains to be seen, however, whether or not N.C. State officials will release Caldwell from his wrestling scholarship commitment. If they don't, Caldwell's father, Kevin, said his son will still transfer.
Without an NCAA one-time transfer release, Caldwell would lose a year of wrestling eligibility, hindering his chances of winning a national title and perhaps one day realizing his ultimate goal of qualifying for the 2012 Olympics.
Caldwell is N.C. State's first All-American since 1996. A two-time NCAA qualifier and owner of a 62-9 career record, Caldwell won his second straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship this season. He also placed fifth in the NCAA Tournament at 149 pounds. As a 141-pounder, Caldwell was named the ACC's 2006-07 Wrestler of the Year. He is the jewel of N.C. State's program.
The addition of Caldwell, a three-time state champion with a 146-4 career record at Rahway High School, would bolster Rutgers wrestling coach Scott Goodale's already highly touted recruiting class. One national publication ranks it among the top 10 in the country.
Goodale's incoming recruits feature three reigning NJSIAA champions, including undefeated scholastic wrestler Scott Winston of Jackson Memorial, and two state runners-up.
"I don't think there's any other school besides Rutgers that I really want to be at, "Caldwell said in a telephone interview from his dorm room in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday.
Caldwell said homesickness and a desire to step back onto the gridiron " he was a Home News Tribune All-Area high school cornerback in 2005, but hasn't played football since " have contributed, in part, to his decision to transfer.
Kevin Caldwell said it was becoming a financial burden for he and his wife to attend Darrion's matches, and that the family decided it would be better if his son could compete closer to home.
Caldwell also received permission to speak with Delaware State and Towson State, two Division I-AA schools which recruited him out of high school to play football.
Chances of the diminutive Caldwell playing football and also wrestling at Rutgers are slim. The last Scarlet Knight to compete in both sports was Ramel Meekins, a 2006 graduate.
Caldwell would be eligible to play football immediately at a Football Championship Subdivision school, but would have to sit out a year upon transfering, with the intent of "walking on, "to Rutgers or any other Bowl Subdivision gridiron program.
Caldwell, however, could wrestle next season at any school as long as N.C. State grants him a release.
North Carolina State head wrestling coach Carter Jordan said he told Caldwell earlier this month that he would try to help Caldwell play football with the Wolfpack or at any Division I-AA school, but that he would not release Caldwell to another wrestling program.
In an e-mail Jordan sent to Kevin Caldwell on April 3, the coach wrote in part: "I am extremely frustrated that every time a smaller program like ours begins to make a move nationally, the big boys swoop down and try to steal our guys. Darrion has been bombarded with calls from other schools from the big conferences. It is illegal and immoral. I intend to fight for Darrion and my program."
Kevin Caldwell refuted that allegation, stating that Darrion has not been in contact with any other university.
During a telephone interview on Wednesday, Jordan seemed to soften his stance on denying Caldwell his release.
Asked if he would release Caldwell to wrestle for another program, Jordan said: "I don't know the answer to that question yet. I'd be willing to talk to him about that. Of course I would. I'm a reasonable person. . . . In the beginning it was the big schools, big programs, and I was angry."
Jordan said he and the school were trying to do what's best for the student-athlete and protect their investment in Caldwell, who benefits from academic support and other services the school provides as part of its scholarship agreement.
"I don't think it's appropriate that we put in two years of work and then he skips and goes somewhere else, "Jordan said. "Certainly he's got the right to do that, but we just feel like the responsibility lies back on the young man, that he's got to bear the onus of that. We are not going to be a farm league for (other schools). It sets a real poor precedent for somebody to come here and all of a sudden want to leave.
"We are not talking about some third-string kid, we are talking about an All-American that wants to leave, so hold your horses."
Asked why any school should make a distinction regarding the release of an All-American or third-stringer, who assumedly receives the same benefits, Jordan said: "That's a great question. In all honesty, there probably should be. I'm being as open and honest with you as I can."
The majority of NCAA student-athletes transfer without issue, but each school reserves the right to deny a release and discussions regarding the release of high-profile student-athletes can sometimes become contentious.
Jordan told Caldwell that his transfer from N.C. State would hurt the school's Academic Performance Rate, an NCAA index that measures the academic performance and graduation rates of student-athletes at member schools. Institutions that fail to meet the NCAA minimum APR standard could lose scholarships. Caldwell, owner of a 2.5 grade-point average, is in good academic standing. Kevin Caldwell said he told Jordan the school's APR is of no concern to Darrion.
"Certainly the APR is one reason why we do not release athletes from their obligations here at N.C. State, "Jordan wrote in his April 3 e-mail, "however, it is not the only reason."
John Fagg, N.C. State's associate athletics director in charge of compliance, refused to answer questions Wednesday regarding Caldwell's status.
Asked what circumstances in general might preclude N.C. State from granting a student-athlete his or her release, Fagg said: "That's a difficult question. It's very individualized."
Asked if he has denied a one-time transfer release to any other student-athlete at N.C. State in the past, Fagg said, "I don't feel a desire to say yes or no."