STILLWATER — Deionte Noel caused quite the stir during the Signing Day celebration at Cibolo Steele High School near San Antonio.
Many assumed he was going to sign with Texas Tech, the school he had first committed to back in April.
Instead, he whipped out Oklahoma State gear.
“There was a big whisper in the crowd whenever my coach announced it, that I was going to (Oklahoma) State,” Noel said. “Nobody knew.”
It was the Signing Day surprise for OSU, which was looking to bolster its offensive line with one more addition.
Except, OSU never announced Noel as a signee. Because he's not a signee.
Instead, Noel will “blueshirt.”
It's a fairly new recruiting concept — a loophole, really — that allows a player to join a program as a walk-on, then earn a scholarship after fall camp begins, then be eligible to play immediately. Noel had never heard of such a thing before. He believes he is the first player OSU has ever blueshirted.
Blueshirting is a tactic that apparently was first used by New Mexico State in the early 2000s. It's been tossed around as a possible avenue that helped Tennessee sign 34 players in the 2014 class. It's advantageous for programs because the scholarship counts for the following class, not the current year's crop.
Here's the major catch — in order to blueshirt, the player cannot be classified as a “recruited student-athlete” by that specific school.
What exactly does that mean?
According to NCAA bylaw 15, a recruited student-athlete is one who was either provided an official visit to campus, had an arranged in-person, off-campus encounter with a member of the coaching staff (this includes arranged contact with the prospect's parents, relatives or legal guardians) and/or was issued a National Letter of Intent or written offer of athletically related financial aid for a regular academic term.
Another NCAA bylaw also denotes that a prospect becomes a recruited student-athlete once more than one phone call has taken place between the athlete and a member of the coaching staff.
Noel does not fit into any of these categories. He's never been to Stillwater. He assured his only contact with OSU during the entire recruiting process was the one phone call from defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer to explain blueshirting and that it was an option for him at OSU.
Yet why was Noel in position to make a last-minute switch to begin with?
In April, he committed to Texas Tech, where former Steele coach Mike Jinks is now an assistant. But about a week before Signing Day, Texas Tech informed Noel the school would like him to grayshirt — yes, another one of the many “shirts” in college football — where an athlete does not enroll until the spring semester, delaying the start of his eligibility clock while also allowing the school to count his scholarship for the following class.
“I really didn't want to do that at all,” Noel said, “because I knew I could go up to any (other) school in June and do what I can do ... That made me kind of mad.
“So I had to rush around and reopen my recruiting. I just thank God that the phone started buzzing, like every minute.”
Noel was set to go on an official visit to Boise State when Spencer called with the blueshirting proposition.
It was a bit of a leap of faith for Noel, since he had never been to campus or met the coaches in person. But he jumped at the chance to stay in Big 12 country.
“I was happy and truly appreciative about it,” Noel said of the opportunity to blueshirt. “Plus, being around Texas and being around Big 12, it's really what I wanted to do.”
In Noel, OSU gets a raw, work-in-progress type of player who switched from defensive line to the offensive side last season. Coaches have told him he moves well for his 6-3, 300-pound size, but he still has some room to grow on the mental side of playing offensive line.
“The biggest thing is D-line is more reaction,” Noel said. “You're not so much thinking before every play about what you've gotta do. O-line, I had to make everything count, every movement had to count ... there was so much thinking.”
Noel has spent the last week or so introducing himself to Cowboy fans via Twitter, even asking what he can expect from his future college environment. He plans to make an unofficial visit to Stillwater in the spring.
And while he won't appear as a Cowboy signee in February, he will be a scholarship player by the season opener.
“I'm kind of late,” Noel said. “The new kid on the block.”