It wasn't too long ago that Rob Scheidt was excited for today to come.
In the Merced football coach's mind, he saw three or four of his players sitting at a table with a pen in their hands.
A black curtain with a Merced logo serving as a backdrop. Black and orange balloons everywhere.
Each player's Merced High jersey hanging behind them.
Their football helmets sitting on the table.
Scheidt's classroom would have been filled with family and friends. It would have been quite a scene.
Today is National Signing Day. It's the first day high school players can sign their national letter of intent to accept athletic scholarships.
Sadly, it will be just be a normal Wednesday at Merced.
No press conference.
"I'm disappointed," Scheidt said. "I'm not mad at the kids. I love those guys.
"It's no different than any mother or father that is upset because their kid missed an opportunity.
"I'm not angry. You just wonder, 'What I could have done differently?' "
The opportunity was there for this to be a special day.
Bernard Bolden, Kenny Cooper and Nathan Mayfield combined to receive more than 20 scholarship offers by the time school started in August.
It started last spring.
Just a few weeks after Scheidt had started sending out highlight DVDs for each player to colleges across the country, the scholarship offers came flooding in.
The offers came in from universities in the Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10 and ACC.
Schools fell in love with Bolden's speed, toughness and versatility.
The only question was: Would they play him on defense or offense?
Many of the same college recruiters drooled over the size and speed of the 6-foot-4, 245-
pound Cooper at receiver or tight end.
Schools like Arizona State, Cal and Colorado felt Mayfield could be a game-changer at defensive end or outside linebacker.
Scheidt had never seen anything like it in his 13 years at Merced.
So what went wrong?
It had nothing to do with anything on the football field.
There's no doubt any of these guys could play Division I football.
Unfortunately, it's in the classroom where the kids fell short.
To meet NCAA eligibility requirements, high school athletes must meet certain academic standards.
They have to pass 16 core classes, which includes English, Math and Science.
They also must meet GPA and SAT score requirements.
As of now, Bolden, Cooper and Mayfield fall short in one or a combination of those requirements.
Although, Mayfield has a legitimate shot of signing with a school in June with a strong spring semester.
For Bolden and Cooper, it appears they will have to find another path if they are going to play big-time college football.
"If I have to go the junior college route, I know what I have to do," said Cooper, who eventually wants to play for Miami. "There's still another way to go. I'm not giving up.
"It's important to me. It's a shot to put me in school."
Cooper said he plans on playing at Modesto Junior College next season and will set up his classes in the next few weeks.
Bolden is considering junior colleges like Butte College and College of the Sequoias.
For people unfamiliar with these kids, it's easy to label them as "dumb jocks."
But I'll be the first to tell you that's not the case.
I've covered these kids during their entire high school careers.
They're all good kids.
But they are kids who come from tough environments.
Mayfield and Cooper both live with single parents, both of whom work at night.
You can imagine the difficulties with their situation.
Then there's Bolden, who doesn't live at home.
He's lived with three different teammates during high school.
"It says a lot about Bernard that he's gotten where he's at," Scheidt said.
"If he used his competitive fire in everything in life...He's a survivor. I could have never done what he's done.
"He feels I'm disappointed in him. I just thought this was his chance to get out.
"It would have given him a chance to be in a structured environment. He'd have a place to sleep every night. He'd have a place to eat every night."
Unfortunately, I don't think any of the players truly understood the opportunity the scholarships gave them.
Hopefully Mayfield's signing day is only delayed for a couple months.
Maybe in two years we'll see Cooper and Bolden eventually get their day.
"It's disappointing, but there's nothing I can do now," Cooper said. "I've got another chance by going to junior college.
"I'm trying to look at it in a positive way. I've got a chance to further my education. I can't mourn over it. I have to do what I have to do."
Let's hope they do.
Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.