Early Enrolling Phenomenon not Slowing Down

By Kyle Rowland on January 21, 2014 at 9:15a
Raekwon McMillan headlines OSU's 2014 early enrollees.

When Maurice Clarett enrolled at Ohio State during the winter quarter of 2002, many onlookers ruffled their noses. Why would a high school student graduate early and enroll at a college football powerhouse? It had the perception of athletics trumping academics.

Those views are all based on opinion. But it’s not like football players are trading high school for college with partying and fun in mind. Early enrollees find themselves on unfamiliar campuses, oftentimes in unfamiliar states, making a sacrifice to further themselves. In Clarett’s case, he won the starting running back job and helped guide the Buckeyes to their first national championship in 34 years. 

The pros and cons have been debated for more than a decade. But one thing is certain, early enrollees have become the norm in a sport where gaining any advantage is sought. In 2002, 15 players enrolled early at Division I colleges. That number is 10 times bigger today, with more than 150 players getting a head start on their college football careers. 

The Big Ten alone has 50 early enrollees with every school being represented. It’s not just reserved for football powers. Illinois leads the way with nine and Indiana has six. Seven members of Ohio State’s highly touted 2014 recruiting class are already on campus in Columbus. The most notable is Raekwon McMillan, rated as the No. 1 linebacker in the country. His presence is significant due to the Buckeyes’ well-documented struggles at linebacker in recent years.

His black stripe won’t come off for months, but McMillan’s impact looms large. Starters Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry return, and beyond them, there isn’t much experience. Trey Johnson played sparingly as a freshman, while Mike Mitchell redshirted. Depth is trying to be identified. 

The expectations are McMillian will play when Ohio State travels to Baltimore for the season-opener against Navy. If he didn’t enroll until the summer, those hopes would be tempered. At 6-foot-2, 242 pounds, McMillan already has the size of a college linebacker, though Mickey Marotti is sure to add muscle to his frame.

The advantages for early enrollees are many. In the classroom, they’re able to immerse themselves in the complex world of college. When it comes to football, they can get their bodies right, develop on the field and become comfortable with teammates. Coaches can also manipulate scholarship numbers to their advantage. It’s become such a popular path that high schoolers begin charting their course to early enrollment during their sophomore years.

Competing in spring practice doesn’t guarantee first-year success or even a star-studded career. But it helps get players in a groove well before they appear in games. A majority of those who skip senior prom are skill players. Robert Griffin III and Matt Barkley are two quarterbacks who went from early enrollee to freshman starter.

“You get the kid in school, get him acclimated to the college environment, entrenched in the workout program and you get to participate in spring football before anything is truly expected of you,” ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said. “And by the time the fall rolls around, you're not the same as the rest of the true freshmen.”

Athleticism and game-changing speed are the easiest avenues to playing as a true freshman. Consider wide receiver Johnnie Dixon the crown jewel of Ohio State’s seven enrollees. He’s got a combination of speed and toughness that coaches love. Quarterback Stephen Collier won’t see the field anytime soon – at least three years – but becoming acclimated with the offense he’ll run and developing as a passer remain important, even in 2014. The one early enrollee guaranteed to play next year is kicker Sean Nuernberger, who will take over for the departed Drew Basil.

College football has never been more demanding. Athletic directors feel pressure from the Board of Trustees to hire a championship-caliber coach, and he feels the heat to produce from the outset. That’s why recruiting is done with immediate results in mind.

Urban Meyer’s “we don’t redshirt” line has become famous at Ohio State. Meyer’s recruiting philosophy involves targeting players who can contribute right away. Since his days at Florida, a portion of those freshmen difference-makers have been early enrollees. The most prominent: Tim Tebow.

“Nowadays you need freshmen in college to play an active role on your team,” former Florida State safety and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle said.

Former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier is credited with being the founder of the craze. He enrolled early for the Bulldogs all the way back in 1990. A quarter century later, he said he’d tell his son to do the same thing. However, not every coach agrees with the growing trend.

Steve Spurrier and the late Joe Paterno are the most famous holdouts. It seems that opinions are shaped by age. Most old-school coaches don’t approve of high school seniors giving up the final months of their freedom. But some recruits choose to enroll early so they don’t have to be a part of the frenzied final month of recruiting season.

The NCAA states the practice isn't for everyone while adding “being in a position to graduate early and be admitted to college means you have worked hard in high school, and that's a good thing.” Regardless, it’s here to stay. Titles will be claimed more frequently with the help of first-year players and high schoolers will see the benefits of graduating early and enrolling at Old State U. 

“I think it’s a heck of an advantage,” Meyer said in 2012, “but we don’t ever force that.”



buckguyfan1's picture

Great Pic... Speak softly and carry a Big Stick.

dan_isaacs's picture

Yeah, it's on fire, too.  That's hot.

RM looks like he has plenty of body fat to lose.  I expect he'll be playing at 240, but looking a lot more muscular.  


Dan Isaacs

cinserious's picture

He's still probably in much better shape than any of us.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

Buckeye06's picture

Here's to the Bucks being fully prepared for the option game and shutting Navy down early and often, on the way to a large halftime lead to rest starters and begin to develop the young depth. 

steveoz49's picture

I'm freakin' excited about this class!  College football has become so mainstream that (in my opinion)  it blows the NFL away.  I enjoy that a lot of schools have cult like fan bases that live and breathe nothing but their school. 
Go BUCKEYES!!!!!!!

German Buckeye's picture

Try living up here in Seattle area - crazy fans for the Seahawks...12th man and all.  Gets a little out of hound.

OSU1995's picture

I'm so glad that Brian Shute signed to play for Ohio State.

“You have to make decisions, ... I've never pretended that every decision I've made was right. And I've been reminded of that.” 

     - James Patrick Tressel

USMC11917's picture

Upvote for one of my favorite movies. I don't want to give it away. I wonder how many other readers know who that character is? Of course, this is my only real experience with logs. It paid to be short and in the middle in those days, lol.


SgtMdx's picture

OooRah! Definitely, one of the only times it was good to be the short guy.

The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.
Gen. John "Black Jack" Pershing, U.S. Army

703Buckeye's picture

Our OL coach had us do that in college... I wanted to die, my shoulders were shredded for like 2 weeks.

"Attack the Strong, Trample the Weak, Hurdle the Dead!"
-Former OSU S&C Coach Lichter

ScoobyKnows's picture

I can understand why some kids do and some kids don't enroll early.  If it were me, I would enroll early.  But then again I hated high school and sucked at sports...  He looks like a beast in that picture.

BuckeyeJAK's picture

Lace em up, bring on spring, i am looking forward to a fresh start with some new faces !

Mark May is a mental midget

OSUFlash's picture

"You can't hold your mud."
-Brian Shoot-


sharks's picture

I was thinking that it would be tough to lose that last semester of high school, but I'd imagine showing up at prom in your official jersey would be pretty cool.

A man got to have a code...

The Butler's picture

Regardless of athletics, I see it as nothing but a benefit for anybody that can graduate early from high school. Sitting around and waiting for a spring graduation, after you've met all the requirements a semester early, would be a huge waste of time. 
For an athlete, it eases them into the rigors of balancing school and sports on a very high level. If nothing else, it lessens their load as a freshman - a time when most students get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of course work involved in transitioning from high school to college. 

I've trained Canaries in the sport of falconry.


MikeLew's picture

"Sitting around and waiting for a spring graduation, after you've met all the requirements a semester early" is something that should not nearly as easy as it is. That it is is a sign that high school requirements are too low.

Mortc15's picture

It's not all about athletics and academics though. What about guys that want to go through their last prom with their closest friends and make a few more memories before they all move in different directions? It's a case by case basis and I don't have a problem with guys enrolling early or finishing out their high school careers. 


UrbanAssaultVehicle's picture

Tough to say I'd personally give up my senior spring and everything that comes along with it (skip days, graduation ceremonies, senior prom, etc). But you have to respect the sacrifices that these kids make to better themselves on the football field and in the classroom.  I'm not sure if they have measured or tracked the effect of getting into a college classroom a semester early, but it has to be so nice for these kids to get all their academics/scheduling (a way underrated pain in the ass!) out of the way before the fall, when the focus is so heavily weighed on football.

Furious George 27's picture

So... If the growing trend is early enrollees doesn't that pretty much make the whole class rankings irrelevant? If a 3* comes in early and has a head start on the rest of the class, isn't it safe to say that they will be every bit as good if not better than the 4* that is showing up by the start of fall camp?  I would love to see where the B1G falls with early enrollees, IMO being able to develop talent early should be factored in the class rankings as well.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

cdub4's picture

I do see your point, but that would be complicated. That would make McMillan a 6 star I suppose lol. Also, a guy like Eli Apple came in early, and still redshirted, so it doesnt guarantee anything. I know Tennessee has 13 or 14 EE. I been following them, trying to figure out how they are fitting in 30+ verbals. I think every major conference has EE's.

Furious George 27's picture

True, enrolling early does not guarantee anything... I was going more with the developmental process. Apple came in early, but the odds were against him to start over Roby and Grant. As for OSU I am not  worried about the talent level that we have. I was curious to see where a team like IU, NW etc fell on the list. What they lack in signing top talent they could make up for it by getting players in the system several months earlier than other schools. Going by the #'s mentioned it looks like the B1G has 1/3 of the EE's in CFB which would be good. I am guessing with Tenn, they are manipulating the roster so they can over sign recruits like every other SEC team.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

BuckeyeStrong1993's picture

will he be 42 at OSU? I cant think of anyone who has that number off the top of my head but im sure he would like to keep his HS number. Cant wait to see this guy on Saturdays


beber1271990's picture

Bobby carpenter and Keith byars

BuckeyeStrong1993's picture

I knew that information im talking about current roster.


Go1Bucks's picture

Great story, I wish early enrollment had been possible during my stretch, I think it pays off to all who go this route.  But I disagree on Collier, I think we'll see him before 3 years.

Go Bucks!