Friday January 11th, 2008

Some of the nation's top football factories wanted Jonathan Meyers. Michigan offered him a scholarship. So did Oklahoma. And UCLA. And Florida, among dozens of others. The Greenwich (Conn.) High fullback/linebacker knew the choice would be difficult. And after taking an official visit to Florida in November, where he watched the Gators hammer Florida State, Meyers figured he'd follow in his father's footsteps -- Glenn Meyers lettered at nose tackle at Florida from 1980-82 -- and head to Gainesville.

But two weeks after that trip, Meyers took one more official visit, this time to a little school in New Jersey that participated in the first game in college football history. When he returned, Meyers sat down with Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio and discussed his options.

"I think you've made the decision already," Meyers remembers Albonizio saying.

"Yeah," Meyers replied. "I think I have."

At that moment, Meyers -- who is also a star lacrosse player -- decided to turn down the titans of college football. They could keep their huge stadiums, their TV contracts and their training tables. Meyers was taking his speed, tackling ability and 4.4 weighted GPA to Princeton.

"I wanted to be at the best place I could be," Meyers said. "Whether it was the best in football, the best in lacrosse or the best in academics, I didn't want to cut any corners."

So when his fellow blue-chippers sign the first of their one-year, renewable scholarships on Feb. 6, Meyers will instead pledge to attend Princeton. The school will promise nothing back in return -- Ivy League schools don't give athletic scholarships -- except an opportunity for an education few are ever offered. Most close to Meyers, including his parents, applauded his decision. Still, a few people thought Meyers had lost his mind.

"Some people were definitely put off by it," Meyers said. "They wanted to see the glitz and glam of it. When it comes down to it, that's kind of short-sighted."

And make no mistake, until just before that Princeton visit, Meyers assumed he would pick a major power. Like any other kid, he'll never forget receiving that first letter from Oklahoma as a sophomore.

"I opened it up and saw the shiny letterhead," Meyers said. "Looking back on it, it was probably one of those form letters, but as a sophomore, that kind of blows your mind a little bit."

Meyers still wants to play in the NFL, but he doesn't believe he has to go to a football factory to get there. He points to 49ers back Zak Keasey, who played at Princeton. Meyers also cite Vikings center Matt Birk, a Harvard graduate just named to his sixth Pro Bowl. Of course, Florida coaches might counter with the fact that nine players from last year's championship team were drafted.

"It's definitely a tougher road to go, but definitely a road less traveled," Meyers said. "That's the situation I've kind of put myself into taking this Princeton route -- in a bunch of ways."

Princeton coach Roger Hughes gets the NFL question a lot when he tries to pry Division I-A prospects away from their scholarship offers, and he has an easy answer.

"The first thing we have to do is educate them on what the opportunities are with a Princeton-type degree," said Hughes, who is prohibited by NCAA rules from speaking specifically about Meyers. "You're going to make NFL-type money. I keep telling them it's not a four-year plan. It's a 40-year plan."

"That's one thing I felt those other D-I places couldn't really do," Meyers said. "I'm sure they're going to prepare you for the NFL like no one else can, but what happens after that was something I always thought about."

An All-America lacrosse player, Meyers hopes to play two sports. But if he picked a major football power, he knew football would have to come first. Meyers said lacrosse wasn't as big a factor as some people think. His concern about life after football drove his decision. He said that while the football factories pay lip service to academics, the Ivies truly emphasize study. "If I was at a different place, education comes second to football, no matter what all these guys say," Meyers said. "Maybe it doesn't come second, but it's definitely a lot less stressed."

Meyers also was apprehensive about the coaching carousel. During the recruiting process, he grew close to the staffs at UCLA and Michigan.

"Ironically," he said, "all those staffs are gone now."

Meyers figured he would find more stability at Princeton, where Hughes has been the head coach since 2000. If the Tigers lose a few games, the players won't have to worry about breaking in a new staff.

Of course, Meyers is lucky that his family can afford the $47,375 per year to attend Princeton. His father is the founder and CEO of e-commerce site and the former CEO of satellite company SkyTerra and Web development firm RareMedium Group. Still, Hughes said, players should not write off the Ivies if their families aren't wealthy. The need-based aid available at most schools can, depending on the family's finances, almost mimic a full scholarship.

And even if a player must take loans, the degree should allow him to pay them back with relative ease. Meyers remembered several current Princeton players telling him during his official visit that they'd already had jobs. Meyers may have turned down a chance to play at the Big House or between the hedges, but if all goes well at Princeton, he may find himself working for a hedge fund.

Those opportunities stuck with Meyers when he sat down with Albonizio last month. Albonizio wasn't surprised. He believes Meyers could be an NFL star, a doctor, a Wall Street whiz or anything else he chooses.

"Here's a kid who's got offers kids would kill for," Albonizio says, "and he turned them down to go to a great university."

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