For Eddie Vanderdoes, a difficult spring and early summer gave way Wednesday to football and relief.
The freshman defensive end from Auburn (Calif.) Placer High went through his first practice with UCLA, less than two weeks after the NCAA ruled him eligible for this season.
Vanderdoes signed a letter of intent with Notre Dame in February, but family issues and other concerns led him to seek to nullify that move. He decided in June to enroll at UCLA to be closer to his family, but Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly refused to release Vanderdoes from his letter of intent.
That sent Vanderdoes and his family through an exhausting appeals process.
Vanderdoes and Notre Dame officials wrote letters stating their stance. Vanderdoes then appeared in person before an NCAA committee.
“Writing wasn’t going help, so I finally got to talk to them,” Vanderdoes said. “I talked a good hour and a half. It was nice to open my mouth at that point.”
Vanderdoes said family concerns were among the reasons he transferred. Vanderdoes said his grandmother has breast cancer and is unable to travel. He declined to give other reasons for his decision.
“My grandmother can’t travel,” he said. “I got to go home last weekend. That was nice. The trip to Notre Dame is an hour-and-a-half flight to Phoenix, a four-hour flight to Chicago and then a three-hour drive.”
Vanderdoes could have enrolled at UCLA, but without a release from Notre Dame, he would have had to sit out a season while losing a year of eligibility.
Asked if Notre Dame officials were helpful through the process, Vanderdoes said, “everybody except one coach.” Asked if the one coach was Kelly, Vanderdoes said, “No comment.”
Vanderdoes, who was considered the second-best defensive lineman in high school last year, said he was confident the NCAA would grant him his release after he was able to speak in person.
“The points I was making were very valid,” said Vanderdoes, who is 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds. “I finally got to tell them in my own voice. I knew I got my point across.”
Vanderdoes' eligibility was a boost to UCLA, which has a hole at one defensive end spot. Starter Datone Jones graduated and Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Jones’ replacement, will sit out this season following two surgeries on his hip.
“Owa is not where he needs to be physically and emotionally,” Coach Jim Mora said. “It’s really difficult to overcome what he has been through.”
Having Vanderdoes “helps,” Mora said, but the coach was also realistic.
“It’s critical to bring Eddie in, but he is young,” Mora said. “As good as he was high school, this is a different level. Our expectations are high, but we have to keep in mind that he is a freshman.”