Eastern Michigan offers former prep standout running back a second chance
But after a May arrest and a drug charge led the University of South Carolina to refuse him enrollment and a spot on the Gamecocks' football roster, the highly-touted prep running back from Florida found his SEC career over before it started.
That all changed Thursday when Axon enrolled at Eastern Michigan, hoping for a fresh start Â - both as a student and as a football player.
Axon, who was ranked as the country's 44th-rated running back by ESPN following his senior season at Manatee High School in Bradenton, Fla., was granted admission to the school and will practice with Ron English's team this season, but will not play.
English said in a statement Thursday that Axon will not play until the 2010 season. During the next year, he must maintain a clean record and remain in good academic standing if he hopes for his college playing career to begin next fall.
"We think he will be a great addition to the team," English said. "But we want Ben Axon to be a great student at EMU before he is a great player for EMU."
Axon, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound running back was scheduled to begin workouts at South Carolina this summer. He chose Steve Spurrier's program over Florida State, Clemson, West Virginia and Purdue after rushing for 1,026 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior, when he also registered 301 receiving yards. During his senior year, Axon rushed for 695 yards and 12 touchdowns.
According to The Bradenton Herald, Axon was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over by Bradenton police. The officer smelled marijuana and asked the driver if there was anything illegal in the vehicle and he responded no.
The officer then asked Axon if he had anything illegal on him and he told the officer he did. Axon gave the officer marijuana divided into 23 small bags and said the marijuana was his, according to the police report obtained by the newspaper.
Axon entered a pre-trial intervention program that required him to complete 50 hours of community service and submit to random drug tests. Axon completed the community service in five days and has had all of his drug tests come back negative. He remains on probation until Oct. 19 after which the charges will be dropped if all of the terms of his probation are met.
"I understand the mistake I made and how it has and could have affected my life and my ability to reach my goals," Axon wrote in his admissions statement to Eastern Michigan.
Axon was not available for comment.
Axon's application for admission was reviewed by the school's admissions review committee, which included a complete review of his arrest and subsequent probation reports as well as his high school transcripts as well as letters of recommendation from his high school principal and football coach.
Athletic director Derrick Gragg declined comment on the matter Thursday, saying the school's media release and statement from English said enough. Despite his previous troubles, English is willing to allow Axon to be part of his program as long as he is prepared to take the proper steps before taking the field.
"He is a 19-year-old who made a very bad decision," English said. "Since he is a first-time offender with some prior issues with drugs, we believe he deserves a second chance. It will not be easy."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org