Thursday, January 10, 2013
Early entries getting jump start
By Gary Laney
BATON ROUGE, La. -- Anthony Jennings, the ESPN 300 quarterback who begins his college career Friday at LSU, plans on hitting the ground running at his new school.
"I need to get in and start grasping the offense," said Jennings, the Marietta, Ga., native who is one of eight new players expected to enroll at LSU over the weekend for the spring semester. "I'm looking forward to starting to work out and I'm looking forward to spring ball and getting a jump start in the offense."
It's a big reason why the trend towards players arriving for the spring semester, months ahead of their class' normal spring graduation, has continued to grow. As more high schools move to college-style block scheduling, it's possible for students to graduate ahead of their class. For Jennings and fellow early enrollee quarterback Hayden Rettig, who will compete with Jennings for the starting job down the line, graduating early allows them to get a head start learning the offense at the position where grasping the offense is most important.
These days, especially in the emerging era of LSU players who only play three seasons, there are plenty of other motivations to get some recruits in early to get acquainted to the program more rapidly.
For wide receiver John Diarse, it will be to get a head start at learning a new position. Diarse was a three-year starter at quarterback for Monroe (La.) Neville, leading the Tigers to a Class 4A state title as a junior, then back to the state finals as a senior.
During summers, he would hit the camp circuit and play receiver, but his arrival on LSU's campus marks a shift to a career as a true, full-time wide receiver.
"It is," he said, "a new chapter in my life."
Others, such as defensive tackle Christian LaCouture, will get a head start at competing at a position where LSU will need young players to compete for playing time. Following the early departure of of junior tackle Bennie Logan to the NFL, the Tigers might need a true freshman to not necessarily start, but play immediately. Arriving on campus early will help a player such as LaCouture adjust.
This is also the case with junior college and prep school transfers. Juco players, in particular, are expected to contribute quickly, so they need the spring practice crash course to be better ready to jump into their role in August.
Junior college transfer tight end Logan Stokes will compete for the starting position in the spring, as will juco offensive guard Fehoko Fanaika, whose prospects for starting improved greatly with Wednesday's announcement that junior tackle Chris Faulk is leaving LSU for the NFL.
Ethan Pocic might have an immediate impact for LSU.
Fanaika, a powerful and athletic guard, could be plugged into the left guard spot in the spring if LSU opts to move La'el Collins, the 2012 starter at left guard, to left tackle. Collins was considered one of the nation's top prep tackles coming out of high school. Fanaika was originally a member of the 2012 class, but had to return to junior college to complete his degree requirements.
Offensive tackle Ethan Pocic also will have an opportunity to leverage his early arrival into quicker playing time. With the departure of Faulk and a recent recport from the New Orleans Times-Picayune that said little-used reserve tackle Chris Davenport is transferring to Tulane, a good spring could help Pocic quickly move up the depth chart.
A third junior college transfer who was scheduled to arrive in the spring, Quantavius Leslie, failed to graduate from his junior college and could not enroll at LSU for the spring semester.
That could spell an opportunity for prep school transfer Avery Johnson to help the Tigers fill an immediate need at wide receiver. Johnson, a member of the 2012 class who enrolled in prep school after failing to meet initial eligibility requirements, is also scheduled to enroll this weekend. He and Diarse will have the opportunity to fill the need LSU was hoping to fill with Leslie.
While neither have Leslie's coveted height (Leslie is 6-foot-4 while Diarse and Johnson are both closer to 6-1), both are powerfully built and strong, which could make them competitive in one-on-one matchups downfield with cornerbacks. Johnson, at least, should be familiar with those battles, growing up the younger brother of Pro Bowler and ex-LSU star cornerback Patrick Peterson.
They don't necessarily seem like the perfect substitutes for what LSU wanted for Leslie.
But by getting to campus early, they have more time to make their case.