Aaron Conrad remembered the day he got the news. The Bridgewater-Raynham senior, who had verbally committed to Boston University on a full-ride wrestling scholarship, believed it was someone’s twisted idea of a joke.
“I remember it was April Fools’ Day,’’ said Conrad, a Globe All-Scholastic and Division 1 Athlete of the Year in wrestling who went 52-0 this season to claim the Division 1 South, All-State, and New England titles in the 182-pound weight class.
“I remember I had just come home from school and one of my assistant coaches had sent me a text message saying, ‘BU is going to discontinue their program; go look at their website,’ ’’ Conrad recalled.
“Immediately, I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just trying to kid around with me. But sure enough, when I went on their website, there was a newsletter saying they were going to discontinue their program after next season.’’
This was no joking matter. BU’s decision to discontinue its wrestling program after 2014 blindsided coach Carl Adams, who lost all of his incoming recruits save for one: Aaron Conrad, who went ahead and honored his verbal commitment by signing his letter-of-intent for a one-year scholarship.
With no other options, Conrad essentially took a leap of faith off the top turnbuckle as the sole incoming freshman of BU’s lame-duck wrestling program.
“As soon as I got offered a full scholarship from BU, I didn’t even consider any other options,’’ said Conrad, who had drawn interest from Brown, Springfield, and UMass-Amherst.
Conrad, who rarely gets pinned on the wrestling mat, felt as though he had been thrown for a loss.
“Right away, I was like, ‘This can’t be happening,’ ’’ he said. “So I called my father first and told him.’’
Fred Conrad, who was also Aaron’s high school coach the last two seasons, thought his son was making a prank call. After all, he had just had a phone conversation that morning with Adams, reaffirming BU’s commitment to sign Aaron to a full, four-year wrestling scholarship.
“I was on the phone with Coach Adams at 10 o’clock on April 1,” said Fred Conrad. “He had a recruit in from Michigan and he told me that he had to excuse himself. When we left the conversation, everything was finalized for Aaron. He’s in — boom — for four years. Put it out on Facebook, put it in the newspapers. It’s a legit thing.
“Then about 5:20 that night, Aaron called me and said it was on the Internet: BU was dropping wrestling. I said, ‘April Fools?’ and he said, ‘No.’
“Then Coach Adams got a hold of me that night at 7:30, 8 o’clock and apologized because they had called him in around 3 when they were releasing it to the press.’’
One and done
BU athletic director Mike Lynch referred all queries to the school’s sports information department. However, Lynch was quoted in an April 1 release from the school as saying, “I understand the impact this will have on our staff and students. However, we have to strategically use our resources in the most efficient and effective manner, and the decision to move forward without wrestling, though difficult, is the right one for Boston University.’’
School officials said BU would honor all commitments to its current student-athletes on wrestling scholarships for the remainder of their undergraduate careers. But no such luck for incoming freshmen who had signed their letters-of-intent.
BU was only going to allow them a one-year scholarship.
“Aaron was the only scholarship kid,’’ Adams said. “We had signed a great heavyweight from Michigan. He signed early with us and we lost him. He’s going to the University of North Carolina.
“We lost some good kids, don’t get me wrong. We lost some good kids who had their hearts set on going to BU, no question about it, but when the decision came down the pike, they had to take their second choice.
“And that was probably four kids. And when I say four kids, I mean four quality kids.’’
Even though he was well aware of the situation, Conrad still signed with BU.
“I went from getting a full scholarship to a great D-1 school, academically and professionally, to now having to figure out what I’m going to be doing after next year,’’ Conrad said. “I’m not going to be able to afford to go to school there without being on scholarship. It costs about $60,000 a year to go there. I mean, even with financial aid, I’ll be lucky to get half that taken off, but I’m still looking at $30,000 a year to go there.
“If I want to get a good four-year degree, I’ll be looking at being about 100 grand in debt when I get out, you know? It’s not something I want to be in.’’
Said Fred Conrad, “Am I upset? Yeah. It was a shocker to go from a very high to a very low, but that’s part of the sport, though. That’s what makes wrestling special — the adversity you have to overcome.
“That’s all right. We’ll just work harder now and go from there.’’
Chance to get noticed
Adams laments the far-reaching impact of BU’s decision to discontinue wrestling.
“The downside of having the program be discontinued is that you take away an unbelievable opportunity for these local kids and the kids in the region,’’ he said. “So that’s a sad part of this whole decision-making process. But Aaron, we were excited that he decided to come anyway.
“I believe if he comes in and works hard at it, he’ll be positioned to transfer to another institution after next season if we don’t have the program. His scholarship is for one year. And so, if we keep the program, he’s all set.
“If the program doesn’t come back, my goal is to try to get him to the point where he’s going to get looked at by other schools who can offer him a similar situation, if he decides to transfer.’’
But Adams sees nothing but a bright future for Conrad.
“For Aaron to come in and be a part of what we’re going to go through in perhaps our last season could be an incredible experience for him,’’ Adams said. “At the very least, I feel he’s going to be as good as he can be at any place that he would attend just because of the fact we’re ending the program.
“We have 11 returning juniors who are going to be seniors next year, so we’re going to have a very mature team. And having Aaron in that lineup is going to make us a better team.
“But, for him, I suspect it was difficult. He’s a smart kid and I think his parents look at it as an opportunity to get his education paid for and still be able to wrestle. If you do well, there’s still going to be the opportunity to transfer.
“There’s still a chance, we hope, that people will revisit that decision and I think there are enough compelling reasons to do so. No matter how you slice it, they’re going to get one year close to $60,000 worth of education — for one year.
“So it’s not a bad thing. I think if he comes here and works really hard, people are going to be looking to pick him up.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.