High school football players who want to play the game in college are often confronted with unfamiliar terms when they become involved in the college football recruiting process. In particular, they’ll often hear of the «redshirt,» as well as the «grayshirt» and «greenshirt» – terms that refer to player recruiting and player development strategies used by many colleges in recruiting for football.
NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) rules allow a college football player five years to complete his four seasons of eligibility. That fifth year in which the player doesn’t compete on the field, although he practices and receives his scholarship just as any other player on a football scholarship, is called the redshirt year. Usually, new recruits are redshirted their freshman year because they tend to need more time to develop as college players who can contribute to the success of the team. A freshman player who plays in games during his first year on campus (he isn’t redshirted) will have only three additional years to play, but a freshman who doesn’t play in games during his first year in college (he’s redshirted) will still have four more years of playing eligibility after that first year.
A high school player receives a greenshirt or is «greenshirted» when he graduates early from high school and thereby forgoes his spring semester there so that he can enroll in college for that semester. Almost unheard of until recent years, the greenshirt allows high school players to participate in spring practice with his college team, develop his football skills and understanding of the team’s system during the spring and summer, and possibly begin playing in games the following fall. This system gives a player and the college team an early start on preparing to play football in college, but comes at the cost of leaving high school early, which might or might not be the best long-term strategy for a student.
A player gets a grayshirt or is «grayshirted» when he signs a letter of intent on signing day in February, but doesn’t enter college full-time until the following spring instead of the following fall. He doesn’t receive a scholarship, practice with the team, or take a full-time load of college courses until his spring enrollment. Grayshirting a player allows a college to sign a player, but delay his play in games for another year. In effect, grayshirting gives a player another year of practice before play, since the NCAA-mandated five-year eligibility period doesn’t begin until a student is enrolled full-time. College programs that have already awarded near the maximum number allowed under NCAA rules are forced to sign a small recruiting class, and they are most interested in players who are willing to grayshirt.
The growing use of these strategies is another indicator of the continuing changes in recruiting for football in recent years. High school players, coaches, parents, and others should know about them and the options that each offers for a football recruit.