MOBILE, Ala. -- Making plays on the football field has always been easy for Under Armour All-American Chris Casher. The four-star DE, who is No. 13 in the ESPNU 150, had many of the nation's top programs after him and committed to Florida State over offers from Alabama, Georgia and Auburn, among others, as a junior 11 months ago.
Making the grades in the classroom, however, was a different story. Casher was on the verge of becoming just another great football player who didn't have the grades to get into college, so he and his family did something extreme to make sure Casher wasn't just another statistic.
Casher, who was attending Faith Academy, a private school in Mobile, Ala., had a choice: Stick with Faith Academy and hope he could improve his grades enough to get into college, or transfer to Davidson High School, a public school that has a proven history of helping students qualify for college, and risk being ruled ineligible to play football because of state transfer rules.
"Things with academics really began to hit me midyear as a junior," Casher said. "I knew I was in a little trouble so I started looking into things. I could have stayed and taken a few extra courses at Faith but it would have cost my family money. I didn't want to put that burden on them and the pressure. I know things are a little slower in public schools and I could take more classes. I had to make the decision."
He and his family chose Davidson. And, as expected, the state ruled Casher was unable to play football and had to sit out the year because he was transferring.
"What was truly important here? The answer to that is getting him to college. Nothing else mattered. Chris has done the work. Chris is doing the work. He has his plan and he has stuck to it," his dad, Chris Casher Sr., said. "I don't think I could have done what he's doing. He has his mind set on this and once Chris has his mind set on something he sees it through and gets it done. No one is more proud of him than me. He had to sacrifice his senior season of football. He had to give up on one thing to achieve another."
Mary Clair Wright, Davidson's academic coach, remembers the day Casher Sr. came to the school. Wright is quick to point out that the school's No. 1 goal is to have players graduate high school. She has been at Davidson five years and it has been 100 percent successful with its players. Now, not everyone is a star athlete or gets scholarships, but they graduate and she said the school has had players who have gone on to Miami, Northern Illinois, the armed services and trade schools. But when she met with the elder Casher, she said that things wouldn't be easy and Chris was the one who had to make a real commitment to academics.
"Chris' dad walked in here in July and said they wanted to come to Davidson," Wright said. "It had not worked out academically for him and he dug himself a huge hole. He knew that we were good at this. I told him we would open the door to helping him get eligible but Chris had to walk through it."
When he first arrived Casher had to take the Alabama High School Exam. It's something all public school students have to do. On his first try Casher scored very poorly. On his second, only nine weeks later, Casher passed everything across the board. Shortly thereafter he scored a 21 on his ACT.
"I don't think he could have done all this here and played the recruiting game. FSU has been great with him and they told him he didn't have to play another snap and his scholarship would still be there," said Davidson coach Fred Riley. "This is a lifelong decision that Chris made and he did the right thing."
And he did the right thing in the classroom, as well.
"The teachers have been so impressed with him," Wright said. "We told [FSU] coach [Dameyune] Craig that Chris could report in June if he stuck to the plan in place. We met with his dad and Chris and created that plan and made the right fit. With that came lots of sacrifice. He didn't play this season and he had to really grow up and change his priorities. But I told him he could achieve his dreams if he made the right choices. We are all very excited about his progress. Since he's been here he's made all A's and B's. He can do this. He wants to do this. He goes to tutoring, does all his homework and he asks for help."
But it's not like he's forgotten about football. While the state was reviewing his application to play this season, Casher was able to practice with the team and the 6-foot-5, 236-pounder showed why he's the nation's third-ranked defensive end.
"In just two weeks of practice Chris showed me that he's the best player I have ever seen on our field," Riley said. "Oh gosh, Shank [Davidson FSU OL commit Alphonse Taylor] couldn't handle him. Shank would just grab air. Chris has such a burst."
Despite not being able to play, Casher took the attitude that he was going to still help his new team in any way he could.
"I contributed everywhere I could for this team even though I wasn't playing," Casher said. "I pushed the guys in the weight room. I pushed them on the practice field. I helped them during the game. They actually started calling me Coach Casher."
He will get to play in one game as a senior -- the Under Armour All-America Game. He received his game jersey on Friday during the 80-stop American Family Insurance Presents the Under Armour All-America Game selection tour.
"It's a big accomplishment for me," Casher said. "And to be honest, I never thought I would have this opportunity to play in the Under Armour Game. It's still a big surprise to me especially considering I didn't play my senior year. This one game means a lot to me because I feel I have some stuff to prove to myself."
Taylor and Casher were acquaintances prior to this fall. Now they are friends and, if all continues to go well, future teammates.
"I am extremely proud of Chris," Taylor said. "I respect the fact that he's had so much maturity to see the big picture. He knew what he had to get done to get to the next level. He realized what was at stake."
And still does. Not a day goes by without him making sure he's making plays in the classroom now.
"I know I have to stay on it and stay focused on school," Casher said. "And I am going to do it. I told [the FSU] coaches that I am not going to let them down. I am not going to let Davidson down. I am not going to let my family down. I am not going to let myself down.
"When I become eligible, I just have to believe it will be the greatest feeling in the world."
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.