|USC Legends News|
Garcia, a four-star-rated quarterback from Tampa, Fla. and the centerpiece of coach Steve Spurrier’s 2007 recruiting class, ranked among the nation’s top 10, has been in Columbia since Jan. 16, the first day of USC’s spring semester.
One of seven mid-year enrollments for the Gamecocks, Garcia is part of a growing trend in college football: players who don’t want to wait eight months to begin preparation for their freshman season.
“It was good for me to get here, get ready for the school year and the (2007) season,” Garcia said. “I wanted to get some classes out of the way, meet the other guys (on the football team), make some friends.”
Garcia and defensive end Travian Robertson of Laurinburg, N.C., passed up the pleasures of their high school senior year to get an early start on their USC football careers — and, they hope, future careers in the NFL. The Gamecocks’ other midyear enrollees are junior college or prep school products, plus a “grayshirt” (late enrollee from the previous class), lineman Ryan Broadhead.
At Clemson, four of five early enrollees, including Byrnes High quarterback Willy Korn and receiver Xavier Dye, also made the leap from high school to college classes, winter workouts and, soon, spring practice.
In all likelihood, they will not be the last to do so.
“In the past, (midyear enrollment) mostly dealt with junior college players,” USC recruiting coordinator David Reaves said. “If you needed a linebacker or a receiver, you’d look for a midyear JC graduate and let them go through spring ball with you.
“Now the high school kids are graduating early. They want to get a jump-start on their careers. It’s become the cool thing to do.”
J.C. Shurburtt, an analyst for Rivals.com, said players aren’t the only ones who like the option and have made it the route of choice for many top recruits.
“You’ve always been able to do it, it was just rare,” he said. “Every now and then a guy would complete high school early. Nowadays, though, kids are all planners, go-getters. They’re in such a hurry to get to next stage of lives.
“It happens more and more in big-college football. With all the practice-time restrictions, coaches also want to bring kids in early and get their hands on them.”
At Clemson, Reaves’ recruiting counterpart, David Blackwell, oversaw the Tigers’ largest group of mid-year enrollees in eight seasons under coach Tommy Bowden.
“It’s more popular this year than ever,” Blackwell said.
Reaves and Blackwell said early enrollments out of high school will remain the exceptions. Impending changes in NCAA high school graduation requirements, with core courses increasing from 14 to 16, will keep it an option for the few, they said.
“I don’t think you’ll see it blow up or become more popular,” Rivals.com’s Shurburtt said. “It’s probably at its peak, but the practice will continue.”
Most agree that midyear enrollment is not for everyone.
“It’s an individual choice,” Spurrier said in January. “I don’t advocate it one way or another. We leave it up to the players on what they want to do.
“If they’re ready to play, it’s probably good they come in. If they’re not ready to play right away, which most of them aren’t — but they could be — it doesn’t help them much.”
Those who do take that route usually are high-profile players: skill-position athletes and, especially, quarterbacks eager to play immediately.
Early enrollment fit into Korn’s ambitions, said Blackwell.
“In his case, to come in and compete on a level playing field (with returnees Cullen Harper and Tribble Reese), he needed to be here in the spring,” Blackwell said.
That’s not the case for every player or every spot in the lineup.
“If I’m an offensive lineman, where players are typically redshirted, I’m not sure how much a player gains,” Clemson assistant head coach Brad Scott said.
Despite successes, some Division I schools do not allow early enrollees. In the ACC and SEC, Virginia and Vanderbilt have such policies. This year, that cost the Cavaliers a top recruit, 6-foot-7, 255-pound tackle Anthony Castonzo. The Charlottesville (Va.) Daily Progress reported Castonzo, who attended Fork Union Military Academy, requested to enroll early at Virginia and was rejected despite a perfect standardized admissions test score and a 4.4 GPA. He ended up committing to Boston College.
Notre Dame did not allow early enrollments from the 1960s up to 2005. The school brought in six the past two years, including defensive back Gary Gray of Richland Northeast this year.
“We did research and found the majority of kids who come in early play as freshmen,” said Duane Wages, a RNE assistant coach and Gray’s legal guardian.
“Also, by going early, Gary will graduate the first semester of his junior year. You don’t know what’s in the future, but if he doesn’t have a chance at a pro career, he’ll have his degree in hand.”
Coaches see some downside to early enrollment, mostly the loss of non-football aspects of a recruit’s senior year.
“(I ask them), ‘Did you get to enjoy your high school experience?’” Scott said. “There’s so many things — the prom, graduation night, beach week — a player gives up.”
But, Scott added, “I’ve never seen a case where a guy who was an early admit regretted it.”
Certainly not Clemson defensive tackle Jock McKissic, who sat out the fall of 2004 to make his entrance scores, then enrolled in January 2005.
“I was playing catch-up on the guys from fall 2004, and now I’m even with those guys,” he said. “And I had an edge on guys who came in (in August 2005).”
In 2005, McKissic played 249 snaps, sixth among freshmen that season. In 2006, he started every game, highlighting his year by returning an interception 82 yards for a touchdown against USC.
“I don’t think it’s for everybody,” McKissic said. “The majority of guys get redshirted (as freshmen), anyway. But I felt I had the talent to play right away. If I sat out another semester, I felt like I would be missing out.”
Garcia, Korn and other newcomers say they are ready to do that. Garcia’s mid-year enrollment experience so far?
“Awesome,” he said.
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