South Jersey’s top athlete this past year will be taking a year off. Well, sort of.
Tom Flacco, one of the most decorated quarterbacks in South Jersey history while at Eastern High School, will be donning a grayshirt this upcoming year at Western Michigan.
While many college football fans are familiar with the redshirt system, which delays the athlete's NCAA eligibility for one year, the grayshirt approach is somewhat foreign. When a player is redshirted, he is allowed to attend class and practice with the team, but cannot play in games. In Flacco's case, being grayshirted means he will not be able to enroll in class until January after the season, which means he can't practice with the squad until spring practices start in 2015.
"The gray shirt idea was brought up by Western Michigan and I really liked the idea," said Flacco. "They actually called me two weeks ago and told me that a spot opened up and that if I wanted to I could enroll in the fall. However, I like the idea of the gray shirt so much that I'm going stick with it."
But the former three-sport standout doesn’t view these as negatives.
"I'm going be able to get familiar with working out and getting into a weight room, which I haven't done and I'll be able to get the playbook by meeting with coaches before January so I'll understand some things before I even get there," he said.
This past season, the Audubon native passed for 2,782 yards and 25 touchdowns while racking up 641 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Despite finishing third on the South Jersey all-time passing list with 7,387 career yards, he excelled on the baseball diamond as well. So much so that he heard his named called in the 2014 MLB Draft when the Philadelphia Phillies selected him in the 32nd round.
With his heart set on football, though, the grayshirt route gives him a good shot at early playing time and in turn, plenty of opportunities to shine at the college level.
"My expectations are that I'll have a good awareness of what the offense is trying to accomplish by the end of spring and truly understand it, which will give me the best chance when competing for the starting position next summer," Flacco said.
In the fall, Flacco will be taking two classes at Camden County College — this keeps his eligibility in-tact, but allows him to get ahead of the academic curve before he gets to Kalamazoo, Mich. — all while focusing on getting stronger in the weight room and learning from the experiences of his two brothers: Joe, the starting quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens, and Mike, who's competing for a roster spot at tight end with the San Diego Chargers.