Robbinsville (Graham County, N.C.) senior Abigail Knight was packing for a summer softball tournament when she noticed an email from her future college coach at Virginia Tech.
She opened the message and quickly scanned the text. She stopped putting clothes in her suitcase and read it again, slowly.
“At this time, our roster is larger than I’m comfortable with,” the email on July 23 from Virginia Tech coach Pete D’Amour read. “I suggest that you open up your recruitment. You’re a great kid and a hard worker, another program will be lucky to get you. I wish you nothing but the best.”
D’Amour had been hired in late May to replace Scot Thomas, who was fired earlier that month after 23 years at the school.
Knight had committed to the Hokies between her freshman and sophomore season. She had been off recruiters’ radars for the last three years. Everyone knew Virginia Tech was her dream school.
But with one email, the future she had planned out had vanished.
“It’s like a breakup,” Knight said. “I felt so betrayed and embarrassed. The whole town was so proud of me and it was hard to explain what happened and for people to think maybe I wasn’t that good after all. I think that he (D’Amour) did it over email made it even worse.”
Knight had met D’Amour before at a softball tournament and had been told her scholarship was safe, she said.
That email was the last contact she had with Virginia Tech.
Knight became a victim of the ugly side of college recruiting, one that comes with false promises and fake smiles. She learned that though recruiters and coaches make the process personal to forge loyalty, it quickly becomes impersonal when they decide to sever ties.
D’Amour did not respond to emails requesting comment.
Colleges push young softball recruits to commit verbally much earlier, sometimes years before they sign a national letter of intent in which athletes and coaches commit in writing to a scholarship amount.
This allows programs to plan in advance the scholarship money they can allocate the incoming players. By the time most recruits are seniors, colleges have already designated all the scholarship money for the incoming class.
“It’s a very scary feeling,” Knight said. “When you’re a senior and you don’t have a school, there is no money left for you. Virginia Tech was my dream school, and out of nowhere they decided they didn’t want me.”
Boston bound after commitment chaos
Knight’s situation is nothing new, according to Jaimie Duffek, the director of softball recruiting at Next College Student Athlete, a for-profit organization that connects student athletes with college coaches.
“It happens pretty frequently,” Duffek said. “Especially in softball. A verbal commitment is basically just a gentleman’s agreement. Nothing is official and things can change quickly. Unfortunately now in the recruiting process, you have to prepare for something like this.”
The recruiting clock began ticking the moment Knight lost her scholarship from Virginia Tech.
Her father and Robbinsville coach, William Knight, traveled into town that night to get cell phone reception to make a call to his daughter’s travel softball coach, John Corn.
“I told him what happened and how upset we all were,” William Knight said. “He told me to sit tight and he’d make a few calls.”
Corn began desperately calling college coaches and recruiters to let them know Knight was back on the market.
“It was pretty crappy for Abigail to lose a scholarship this late into the game. It’s such a hard thing to watch as a parent,” William Knight said. “In softball, there are fewer scholarships and kids get recruited so early. By the end, there is not much left on the table for uncommitted seniors. But we got lucky.”
Knight’s reputation on the softball field garnered interest from a few schools, including Penn State and Boston College. Her family scrambled to make travel arrangements with little time to spare between travel softball and the beginning of the school year.
Knight struggled with the notion of finding another school, but a visit to the city of Boston helped her move on.
“The campus (at Boston College) was beautiful, and I knew immediately that I would enjoy living there,” she said. “It made me feel better about everything.”
Boston College offered her a 70 percent athletic scholarship, an even better offer than Virginia Tech had made to her as a freshman.
She committed the day she returned from her visit and signed with the Eagles on Nov. 16.
Boston College plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference with Virginia Tech.
“I’m very excited to play Virginia Tech,” Knight said. “I want to show them what they missed out on.”