Elijah Blades, a tall and athletic cornerback from Pasadena, California, thrilled Nebraska football fans this past winter when he announced he would attend NU.
As Husker head coach Mike Riley on Feb. 1 unveiled his program's scholarship class of 2017, he identified Blades as "one more real competitive guy to look at for winning games this fall."
Turns out, Blades will try to help Arizona Western College win games this fall.
The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Blades, a consensus four-star recruit, told HuskerOnline.com late Monday night that he failed to qualify academically to attend Nebraska and will head to the powerhouse junior college in Yuma, Arizona.
Arizona Western head coach Tom Minnick, whose team finished 11-1 last season, told the Journal Star on Tuesday morning he's thrilled to have Blades in the fold.
"We were on him a long time ago, in early February — he didn't know it — but we knew he was on the borderline with his grades," Minnick said. "We just kind of kept up with him and kept up with him and finally the time was right to go in and start recruiting him."
Minnick said his staff began pursuing Blades in earnest about three weeks ago.
"A lot of kids don't want to hear that they might not make it (academically), you know," Minnick said. "We just kind of stay off of them and wait until we actually find out he's not going to make it. At that time, we swooped in and told him what we had to offer him. He was excited about it. Excited to have an opportunity to get a scholarship at the junior college level and move on after it."
Blades said he declined an opportunity to attend Nebraska in 2017 as a partial qualifier, a scenario in which he would lose a year of eligibility but be able to play in 2018 if he met academic requirements.
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"Yes, a partial was a possibility, but I decided not to," Blades said.
Blades, who starred at John Muir High School, originally announced on National Signing Day (Feb. 1) he would attend Nebraska. However, Monday night, he told HuskerOnline, "I don't think so," when asked if there is any way he will go to NU after finishing junior college. He said he had doubts about how well he would fit in at Nebraska, adding, "but I do love their fan support."
Ranked by 247Sports as the No. 16 corner in the nation, Blades becomes the second academic casualty in Nebraska's class of 2017. Deiontae Watts, a three-star defensive lineman from Plano (Texas) East, hasn't enrolled at NU and doesn't plan to do so, according to multiple reports. Although Watts reportedly double-signed with the Huskers and Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, his future plans in the sport are unclear.
In addition, Keyshawn Johnson Jr., a four-star receiver from Calabasas (California) High, returned to his hometown last month in the wake of an arrest in Lincoln for marijuana possession and a lingering illness that sidelined him during much of spring practice. Riley has said Johnson would be allowed to return to the program once he's physically and mentally prepared to do so.
As for Blades, he appeared to have a golden opportunity in 2017 at Nebraska to play immediately, especially in the wake of Saturday's news that senior standout Chris Jones recently underwent a meniscus repair on his left knee and could be sidelined for up to six months. If senior Joshua Kalu remains at safety, NU will enter preseason drills July 30 with no corners who have more than one collegiate start at the position.
Sophomore Lamar Jackson started the Music City Bowl last December.
Kalu started 26 games at corner the last two seasons but moved to safety in the spring.
Blades was the only defensive back in Nebraska's scholarship class of 2017. But he's now already preparing to play for Arizona Western, which last season lost by three points to top-ranked Garden City (Kansas) in the NJCAA championship game.
"He's been great with us," Minnick said. "He's in summer school right now online, doing some stuff for us. We expect him to come in and play right away. I mean, he was one of the best corners we saw on film this year. We're glad to have him and he's going to help us out."