I've heard longtime Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops -- who typically has a handful of early enrollees -- wonder if there is really much benefit to signees arriving in January. He reasons that a freshman can navigate the transition in the classroom and weight room much easier in the summer months than during the winter. The burden is lighter, and there are more peers enduring the same elements for the first time.
It takes a special breed of player and person to figure out how to manage a new environment and new level of football -- and then another category altogether to wind up contributing as an early-enrolling freshman. But that doesn't stop dozens of teenagers from trying it each year at elite programs, passing up a final semester of high school for college, enduring spring practice at the college level instead of lining up prom plans.
In fact, 2013 is perhaps the heaviest load of early enrollees in recent memory. The SEC's championship game competitors, Alabama and Georgia, had a combined 22 players enroll in January. Yes, you can field a team with that crew. USC and Ohio State, working their way through and back from sanctions, each added seven newcomers before signing day.
I asked ESPN national recruiting analysts Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert to weigh in on specific prospects or, more generally, what it takes for immediate impacts from those freshmen arriving early.
Luginbill quickly reminded me that maturity is a big factor when assessing early enrollees' abilities to immediately contribute. It makes sense. It doesn't matter when you get to school, January or June, if you're not equipped between the ears for the transition. These players are 18 or 19 years old; it takes unique individuals, mentally and physically, to compete at the highest level. Some do it well. Alabama's T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper, reasons why the Tide again won the national championship, are excellent examples from a year ago.
Here are several candidates to be the next Yeldon or Cooper, at Alabama and elsewhere.
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