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Why the pandemic led FAMU’s Calvin Ashley to end his college career and focus on the NFL draft

"It might sound selfish," the former five-star Auburn signee said, "but at some point you've got to think about yourself and your family."

Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley made national news Wednesday when the all-ACC cornerback announced he was skipping the upcoming season and entering the NFL draft because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although Farley is a high-profile player and a potential first-round pick, he wasn’t the first NCAA player to make a choice like this; former Florida A&M offensive lineman Calvin Ashley was.

“It might sound selfish,” Ashley said, “but at some point you’ve got to think about yourself and your family.”

Related: Gainesville, Tallahassee businesses agree: ‘God help us all if we don’t have football'

Family is part of what led Ashley to FAMU in the first place.

The Orlando native originally signed with Auburn as a five-star recruit in the 2017 class. He didn’t click with the Tigers, starting only once in two years before transferring to Florida Atlantic in 2019. But Boca Raton was too far away from his new bride and newborn son, Calvin Jr.

“At one point, he didn’t recognize me,” Ashley said. “As a father, that hurts.”

So Ashley finally settled on FAMU to be with his family as his wife finished her undergraduate degree at Florida State.

The 6-foot-7, 330-pound Ashley started seven games at right tackle for the Rattlers last season and was looking forward to a strong redshirt junior season until the pandemic hit. When the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference announced it was suspending its fall sports calendar two weeks ago, Ashley was conflicted. As a parent, he felt relieved. But as a competitor, he was upset.

“I would love to have played in the fall to get out there and dominate, to get more film,” Ashley said.

Although the conference didn’t rule out the possibility of playing football in the spring, it didn’t guarantee the move, either.

Related: Nine thoughts on the ACC’s updated football scheduling plan

Ashley faced two choices: He could stay at FAMU to try to play in the spring, next fall, or both. Or he could end his college career to start training for the NFL.

He considered sticking around, but his family situation pushed him toward the pros — a decision he announced last Friday.

Daycare and milk are expensive for a pair of college students. Besides, the extra time will allow him to perfect his run and pass blocking as he tries to advance to the next level.

“I feel like I can use this time to focus on my body,” Ashley said. “I haven’t been hurt. I’m still healthy. I’m still fresh. I just decided to take that leap and just bet on myself as an athlete and as a person, because I know where I am.”

Ashley, 23, is still in Tallahassee with his wife — now a graduate student at FSU — and 1-year-old. He is training at TITUS Human Performance and deciding on an agent.

He also is monitoring the wave of players who are opting out because of the pandemic. More than two dozen NFL players, including former Florida State star Eddie Goldman (Chicago) and ex-Gators lineman Caleb Brantley (Washington) plan to sit out this fall.

Related: Florida State lineman Andrew Boselli details coronavirus recovery

Running back Ra’Von Bonner won’t play for Illinois this year, and Farley, like Ashley, is headed for the draft. Ashley expects more college players to follow.

“When I first did it, I knew a lot of people were going to come out and do the same thing,” Ashley said. “It’s not worth the risk of going out there, potentially catching it. We’re football players. We’re athletes.

“You go out there, you don’t know everybody’s condition. There’s players out there that have heart problems, who are previous cancer survivors, players like that who would go out there. It may not be the best for them. I feel like if they have the opportunity to enter the draft, I feel like they should.”

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