SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — Eddie Vanderdoes says he had four good reasons for deciding to attend UCLA shortly after committing to Notre Dame.
He’ll only share one: His ailing grandmother in Northern California.
“She’s got breast cancer now, so it’s not too good, but I’m spending as much time with her as I can,” Vanderdoes said. “I got to go up there last week.”
The touted defensive lineman’s reasons were good enough for the NCAA, which allowed him to start his college career on time. Vanderdoes is grateful to be sweating it out in San Bernardino at training camp with his fellow Bruins after the NCAA ruled him eligible for the season.
“It feels great to finally be a college athlete, be done with everything and move on with my career,” Vanderdoes said, describing the last three months as “horrible.”
Last week, Vanderdoes wasn’t sure whether he was about to miss a year of eligibility because he decided he had to go to a school closer to home, unwilling to miss whatever time he could get with his grandmother, who can’t travel any longer. Westwood still isn’t next door to his native Auburn, Calif., which is northeast of Sacramento, but it’s a whole lot closer than northern Indiana.
But Irish coach Brian Kelly declined to release Vanderdoes from his letter of intent in June, a move that would have forced Vanderdoes to sit out this season and left him with just three years of eligibility. Vanderdoes asked for help, and the NCAA intervened after a lengthy process of appeals and in-person discussion.
“I think he was honest all the way through, forthcoming, and I think people recognized that,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “After his appeal, I think they decided right around one day. I haven’t asked him about the details of that discussion at all, and I don’t know if I ever will.”
Mora is getting one of the nation’s top defensive line prospects in the deal, but the coach believes Vanderdoes’ reasons for his change of heart were legitimate — not just cold feet from a picky prospect who committed to Southern California before re-opening his recruitment and choosing Notre Dame on signing day.
Vanderdoes said he changed his mind about South Bend roughly a week after signing day. He hopes other young players learn about his dilemma and learn something he never realized about the first week in February: Nobody has to commit to a college on the big day.
“I had no idea. I thought you had to sign on the dot, Feb. 6,” Vanderdoes said. “My advice, make sure you’re 100 percent before you sign your life away. Just make sure, because you have time. It’s not like you have to sign on the 6th.”
When asked if Notre Dame had been helpful in the difficult process, Vanderdoes replied: “Everybody except for one coach.”
Would that be Kelly?
Vanderdoes’ eligibility could be even more important for the Bruins after another development announced by Mora on the first day of camp. Senior Owamagbe Odighizuwa, the likely starter at left defensive end, will miss the season after two offseason surgeries on his left hip.
“Because we don’t have Owa, it’s just critical that we were able to bring Eddie in,” Mora said. “Now, Eddie is young. As good as he was in high school, this is just a different level, so I think we have to be careful about how much we expect of him right away. Our expectations are going to be high, but we all have to keep in mind that he’s a freshman.”
Vanderdoes could be penciled in as a starter on a line that also lost Datone Jones, the Green Bay Packers’ first-round pick. If Vanderdoes is as good as advertised, he’ll get plenty of early opportunities to contribute to a defense stacked with inexperienced talent surrounding star linebacker Anthony Barr.
“We’re going to have a whole lot of young guys contributing this year,” Mora said. “We’ve got to do the right things in bringing (Vanderdoes) along — not overwhelming him, not demanding too much of him.”