Ever take a multiple-choice test where there are no right answers on the page?
Maybe if you’re the optimistic type, there are no wrong answers either. Paul Grattan can tell you about it. He’s got a pandemic tale to put up with the best. You hear the one about the college football player who transferred from Villanova to UCLA five days before UCLA canceled its season?
A three-year starter at guard for Villanova’s football team, Grattan was ready to be back on the Main Line for a fourth as a graduate student when the Colonial Athletic Association shut down fall sports.
If Grattan was going to move toward his goal of an NFL future, transferring seemed smart, he said, so he didn’t fall behind. Grattan, at home outside Pittsburgh, put his name in the NCAA transfer portal, to see who had a need for an interior lineman. On Monday, Aug. 3, a Villanova compliance officer told him over the phone he was officially in the portal.
“Before I even got off the phone, I was already getting follows from coaches on Twitter,” Grattan said Wednesday. “The University of West Florida — which won the Division II national title last season — their whole staff followed me.”
He asked the assistant who reached out how they were so quick. The coach told him they were sitting on the portal page just hitting refresh.
They probably weren’t alone. Rutgers immediately reached out, and Baylor, among others. Michigan State direct-messaged him. A lot of FCS schools that hadn’t yet shut down reached out.
“I couldn’t put my phone down for eight hours," Grattan said.
UCLA emailed, asking for a transcript and film. They called the next day. Their center had graduated, and one of the starting guards had hit the transfer portal.
“My big thing was, I don’t want to be a depth guy,” Grattan said. “They said, ‘We have a need. We need you.’ "
That’s why Grattan, 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, didn’t contact schools himself. He figured if they really needed him, they’d find him.
Timing factored in, too. The Big Ten schools were starting camp last week, and Grattan figured if he had to quarantine, he’d be behind. UCLA wasn’t starting until Aug. 29. Perfect. Last Thursday, Grattan committed. He was a Bruin.
A coach from Rutgers contacted him: “Are you sure they’re going to play?”
Grattan thought to himself: “Are you sure you’re going to play?”
Within five days, he got his answers. Neither team was going to play. The Pac-12, including UCLA, announced Tuesday it was not going to have a fall sports schedule, hours after the Big Ten made the same call.
Now what? The roller-coaster ride had just crested, started down again.
“This is a business decision for me,” Grattan said. He still plans to be a Bruin.
He could have switched gears, returning to Villanova. He also could have decommitted and tried a new school, still hoping to play, but what if that school then shut it down?
“It would just be ridiculousness at this point,” Grattan said.
If the worst thing that happens is he never plays at UCLA but spends the whole year in Los Angeles prepping for the draft while taking graduate classes, he’s at peace with that.
Maybe the best possible scenario, Grattan said, is if UCLA doesn’t play again until 2021, and he stays until then, gets a Pac-12 season in, then goes for the 2022 draft. But he’s trying not to get ahead of himself.
“The most stressed I’ve ever been is probably the last two weeks,” Grattan said.
Again, no correct answers. Rutgers? Not playing. That gung-go West Florida squad? Not playing. Baylor still is trying to play in the Big 12, but they’d wanted him to switch to tackle, so that hadn’t seemed perfect from the start.
Option A would have been staying put, Grattan made clear. Villanova, with a big class of fifth-year graduate students, had been ranked in the FCS top 10 in early 2020 national polls.
Grattan, who has nothing but praise for Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante and his staff, said “this is probably one of the manliest moves” he could imagine from a head coach, when Ferrante explained the options for the fifth-year seniors, including the transfer portal.
“From our perspective, more bitter than sweet,” Ferrante said. “But the way I laid it out with all the guys, the fifth-year guys, I tried to lay out their options. I told them all, we don’t want any of you to transfer, but once it’s determined we’re not playing, if you find a place that is miraculously going to play, I’ll help you get there.”
And if it fell apart, he’d try to get them back, he told them. Three players entered the portal. One other, top receiver Changa Hodge, has committed to Virginia Tech, which is still trying to give 2020 a go.
Ferrante told them all to make sure a scholarship would last past this fall, in case there is no fall season. He also told them to ask whether they were going to be brought in to start — no time to work into a role in one year. Grattan was satisfied with the answers he got from former Eagles coach Chip Kelly and his Bruins staff. His line coach at Villanova had coached with Kelly at New Hampshire, so the playbook wasn’t going to be a complete foreign language. He appreciated they also said they’d understand if he wanted to go back to Villanova after the Pac-12 shutdown announcement.
“I thought about it," Grattan said. “I love my guys at Villanova, and every single one of the coaches,. When I say I love Villanova, I love Villanova. I wouldn’t be doing this without COVID.”
Safe to say, his test isn’t over yet.
“I just decided I’m going to a place that’s going to help me,” Grattan said. “Enjoy my life in Cali.”
Ferrante gets it. When there are no right answers, there are no wrong answers.