'A bunch of relief': Iowa recruit Arland Bruce IV eager to play for Ankeny after 5-week eligibility battle
ANKENY, Ia. — Ankeny football coach Rick Nelson asked Arland Bruce IV to come up and stand next to him as he addressed his team after practice Thursday.
With Bruce to his right, Nelson told the Hawks the news that everyone had heard one way or another by then: After missing the first five weeks, Bruce had won a long battle with the Iowa High School Athletic Association that day when an administrative law judge overruled the IHSAA and deemed Bruce eligible to play.
"He's family," Nelson said, wrapping his arm around Bruce's shoulder.
Bruce, who transferred from Olathe North in Kansas to Ankeny this August when his home county voted to postpone fall football, told the Register on Thursday that he doesn't know if he has ever been more excited for a football game than he is for Friday night's contest against Johnston.
"I’ve just been confused, stressed," Bruce said with a smile. "Now it’s just a bunch of relief now that I’m playing, man. It’s just been a ride. It’s been crazy."
Following a Tuesday morning hearing, an administrative law judge for the state Department of Inspections and Appeals overruled the IHSAA's decision from before the season began. The head of the Department of Education signed off on the ruling.
IHSAA Executive Director Tom Keating told the Register the association fully accepts the judge's ruling.
"A decision has been made. That’s why the process is in place," he said.
So, how did Bruce find out?
Well, his attorneys called Nelson when they received the ruling. Nelson then dashed over to Bruce's English class and burst through the door, right as Bruce was about to take a test.
He quickly pulled Bruce into the hallway and told him he could play Friday night.
He was finally eligible.
"I was just in shock, man. Disbelief," Bruce said. "I shed some tears."
After having two injunctions rejected and his formal IHSAA eligibility appeal denied over what turned into a five-week legal process, Bruce's Department of Education-ordered court hearing was essentially his last chance to play football in Iowa.
There was chatter that, if the court sided with the IHSAA, Olathe Public Schools — which is now playing football — would have allowed Bruce to return, enroll and be immediately eligible to play.
But if he could have his way, Bruce, who will enroll at Iowa in January, wanted to see things through with his new Ankeny family.
"The Ankeny community has just accepted me in so many different ways — emotionally, physically on the field. I love every single person here," he said. "I haven’t even been here that long, even. It’s crazy how strong of bonds here I’ve formed already, so I just appreciate everyone in Ankeny."
Now, other players fighting ineligibility rulings hope the judge's decision in Bruce's case will help push the IHSAA to grant them eligibility, as well.
West Des Moines Valley quarterback Jake Rubley, who transferred in from Colorado this August, was ruled ineligible last week after starting the Tigers' first three games. The association officially denied his eligibility appeal on Thursday, but that decision was made before the judge had released his Bruce ruling.
Bruce believes his case should serve as a precedent.
"I don’t get why some of the kids played and now they can’t play," he said. "It’s kind of dumb. I read a little bit about Rubley, and I’m just confused about the residence thing because you’re basically saying someone can’t have a vacation home or something? I don’t know. The rulebook’s all screwed up."
Keating told the Register the association will look into the judge's ruling to see if this decision should affect what the IHSAA does with other players it has ruled ineligible.
"We (review) every decision, because sometimes even with decisions that uphold our rulings, they give some editorial language that we need to consider," Keating said. "So we’ll dig into this and we’ll see exactly what the judge’s rationale was and then how that impacts everything else."
Matthew Bain covers recruiting and pretty much anything else under the sports sun for the Des Moines Register and USA TODAY Network. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.
Your subscription makes work like this possible. Join today at DesMoinesRegister.com/Deal.