PORTSMOUTH — Joe Igaz, Braidan Haney and Grant Gifford were mere weeks away from walking through Urbana’s doors.
Then, out of the clear blue on Tuesday, Urbana University’s parent university — Franklin University —slammed those doors right in that trio’s faces.
That’s because, without warning, Franklin University announced that it was closing the Urbana University campus in Urbana — an NCAA Division II institution and a member of the Mountain East Conference.
The closure is effective at the conclusion of the spring semester, and now its student-athletes must find another school in which to continue their academic and athletic careers.
Those include Igaz of Portsmouth West, Haney of Sciotoville East and Gifford of South Point and formerly of East —all of whom which officially signed national Letters-of-Intent in February for playing football for the Blue Knights.
But now with the university suddenly closing, Igaz, Haney and Gifford’s recruitments are in fact re-opening.
In a public statement on Tuesday, Franklin University explained that declining enrollments —along with the economic impacts from the coronavirus pandemic — are the primary reasons for Urbana’s closure.
Urbana’s residential campus is home to 1,254 students, sits on 128 acres of property, was founded in 1850, and was acquired by Franklin six years ago.
The Blue Knights’ athletics programs include 17 NCAA Division II sports and three intercollegiate club sports —with football, like most colleges or universities, bringing in the most revenue for the athletic department.
“Like many small rural campuses across the country, the Urbana University branch campus has experienced low enrollments for many years. Franklin University’s efforts to stabilize the Urbana campus have met with some success in recent years. However, the global coronavirus pandemic has added a level of stress and uncertainty to Urbana’s prospects that make it impossible to sustain, compelling Franklin University to discontinue physical operations on the Urbana branch campus effective after the Spring 2020 semester has ended,” the statement said. “As a result of this decision, academic programming will be moved to Franklin University, while athletic offerings and on-site administrative roles will cease at the Urbana branch campus.”
Haney — who did not return a text message seeking comment — was recruited as a linebacker to the Blue Knights, while Igaz and Gifford were recruited as offensive linemen.
Both Igaz and Gifford reacted with disappointment and shock on their individual Twitter accounts on Tuesday, then followed by interviewing with The Portsmouth Daily Times about their individual situations.
Igaz, in his new recruitment, is open to playing both defensive and offensive fronts.
He accepted Urbana’s full scholarship offer, and made it official with his signing at West High School on National Signing Day.
“Basically, on Monday, we were talking about reconditioning helmets. The next day, they sent a text out unexpectedly telling us that we were being shut down. It was a total shock,” said Igaz. “The coaches had no heads up, no one did I believe. It shocked me at first because I felt like my life was falling apart. I met those guys and made a connection with them, and they were like family. Now I have to restart all over again after pouring my blood and sweat into getting that offer. It’s just a devastating event and I feel sorry for the commits, players and staff at the university. Urbana was a good place.”
Igaz’s interest in other programs which contacted him as part of his original recruitment remains, as he has also developed connections with some new schools —earning a couple of Division II and NAIA offers.
He said he also has offers as a preferred walk-on from North Carolina Central and the University of Akron.
“I am just trying to find an offer like Urbana,” said Igaz. “I appreciate the community’s support and I would say don’t ever take anything for granted because things can switch in a matter of a click.”
“When I heard the news I was speechless. A place I thought was going to be home for the next four years just went away. I felt so comfortable at Urbana. I realize the coaches were caught by surprise as well and they couldn’t help it. Urbana has an amazing coaching staff and I wish the best of luck to them on finding a new place to coach at,” he said. “Right now, I have a lot of new schools and schools that were recruiting in the past back to it. I am looking at some options, but as of now, I’m going to apply to a lot of places and see where that takes me. I’m going to keep trusting in God through all of this and go where he takes me.”
Where Haney, Igaz and Gifford go from here is unknown, and unfortunately for them — timing is not exactly on their side.
Most programs have already completed their recruiting for freshmen of next season, and thus scholarships are likely not available.
Haney, Igaz and Gifford may have to walk on now — as they will no longer be walking through Urbana’s doors.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved