A 17-year-old football player in Arkansas wasn’t eligible to play this fall. That is, until he made the biggest decision of his life.
He got married.
This fascinating story comes courtesy of Arkansas’ KATV. A transfer student to Mountain Pine (Ark.) was initially ruled ineligible by the Arkansas Activities Association. He then married a student who was already attending the school, and also moved in with her parents.
This led to him gaining eligibility, and to a 180-degree turnaround for the Mountain Pine program that went winless in 2016. The player, who KATV does not name, missed the 35-0 loss that opened the season. Since joining the team, the running back has rushed for over 100 yards per game, scoring 16 touchdowns during a seven-game winning streak.
The team that KATV says has won just three games over the previous six seasons is now 7-2, fueled in large part by a rarely-if-ever-used rule.
“We’re in the participation business,” says Lance Taylor, executive director of the Arkansas Activities Association. “So, we try to get kids eligible as long as they meet the rules that all students have to meet in our state.”
Rule 16, Subsection A, Exception 6 states that if a “… student is married and living with a spouse … who had an established domicile in the district one year prior to the marriage …” then he or she is instantly eligible.
On Aug. 31, Mountain Pine Superintendent Bobby Applegate emailed the AAA asking, “What all information did you say you needed for our student to become eligible when he gets married besides the license?”
A week later, Applegate provided the AAA with a marriage certificate with the names of two 17-year-old students on it. Applegate also provided an email from the bride’s father confirming that the teens had married “due to a certain circumstances.”
The families declined interviews from KATV, although the father-in-law of the player said that sports eligibility wasn’t the primary reason for the marriage. And while the player’s name was not mentioned in the story, 247Sports’ analysis of MaxPreps data shows only one player with the stats to match KATV’s description.
That player is senior Dafavioun Haywood, who had run for 16 touchdowns and 1,071 yards entering Friday night.