Enrolling early is a major advantage for recruits who are mentally ready to skip their final semesters of high school and begin college curricula and weight-training programs. Additionally, enrolling early allows the recruit to become acclimated with the program and participate in spring practice -- a major leg up on the other incoming players who must wait until the summer to start school.
And enrolling early seems to be a major trend of late, as more and more recruits get an early start on their college careers.
Quarterbacks get a head start
In the SEC, Florida, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Georgia Alabama and LSU all have quarterbacks who will be getting a head start via enrolling early, and there is a good bet that a few will start.
Davidson (N.C.) Day quarterback Will Grier is Florida's next potential star at quarterback. The 247Sports Composite has the five-star rated as the third pro-style quarterback in the 2014 class, trailing only Texas A&M's Kyle Allen and Stanford commit Keller Chryst. He is also considered to be a top-40 player this year, as well, turning down offers from Tennessee, Auburn, and North Carolina to come to Gainesville.
A&M hopes to have someone to fill Johnny Manziel's shoes in Elite 11 quarterback Allen, who comes to College Station as the nation's top-rated pro-style passer. Allen, who attended Scottsdale's Desert Mountain High, is ranked as the nation's No. 15 player overall. The 6'2, 185-pound signal-caller held 18 reported scholarship offers, including Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, UCLA, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, and Wisconsin. Allen is the most polished quarterback I have seen this year.
Kentucky's Drew Barker is an impressive quarterback out of Conner High School in Hebron, Ky. He is rated four stars by the Composite and is rated the No. 6 pro-style QB nationally. He also held offers from Louisville, Miami, and South Carolina, among others. Barker has a real shot to start at Kentucky as a true freshman thanks to the reps he will get in the spring.
The Bulldogs' lone early enrollee is 6'3, 202-pound pro-style quarterback Jacob Park from Goose Creek (S.C.) Stratford High School. He is a consensus four-star player, ranked as the No. 5 prospect at his position and the No. 72 overall player in the 2014 class. Park picked UGA over offers from Alabama, Florida State, Auburn, Notre Dame, Tennessee and Virginia Tech, among others.
David Cornwell will start his campaign to be the next great Alabama quarterback early, as the four-star prospect will enroll in the spring. From Norman North (Okla.) High School, Cornwell is rated as the fourth-best pro-style quarterback in the country and the 65th-best player in the class. He also received offers from Auburn, Miami, Missouri and Oklahoma State. Here's our scouting report of him. Cornwell did tear his ACL during his senior season, and he is probably the most raw of the quarterbacks in this group. He also has phenomenal talent.
LSU's Brandon Harris is an impressive, four-star quarterback out of Bossier City (La.) Parkway High School. He is rated the third dual-threat quarterback recruit nationally. He also held offers from Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State, and Texas A&M. Here's our scouting report of Harris.
Bonus! Clemson, a school in the SEC's footprint, is also bringing in an early enrollee quarterback in Deshaun Watson out of Gainesville, Georgia. Watson is the top-rated player at that position this year, and turned down offers from Auburn, Alabama, LSU, and Florida State in favor of playing for Dabo Swinney and Chad Morris. With Tajh Boyd headed to the NFL Draft, Watson's early entry could help him earn the starting job.
JUCO linemen often have a major impact
With limited time to play, JUCO players are often looking to get into a system early on. And this is particularly important along the lines, where schools look for the physicality that high school recruits often cannot provide. The SEC West has long been the spot that brings in the most junior college players, and 2014 is no different.
The Alabama Crimson Tide picked up immediate assistance on the defensive line.
Jarran Reed, a four-star defensive tackle recruit out of East Mississippi Community College, has a short time to play at Alabama because of the time he spent at junior college, so enrolling early will be a big help in his quest to earn a starting position. Reed chose Alabama over offers from Nebraska, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State. He should provide immediate help along the defensive line. Reed was rated as the second-best defensive tackle and 14th-best overall prospect among JUCOs.
Reed will be joined in Tuscaloosa by D.J. Pettway, who was kicked off Bama's team in 2013 after being arrested on a robbery charge. Pettway is an impressive defensive end recruit, also out of East Mississippi Community College. Pettway is rated four stars by Composite, and is rated the third-best defensive end and 16th-best overall JUCO prospect. He also held offers from Florida State, Tennessee and Ole Miss.
In College Station, Texas A&M attempted to secure their offensive tackle situation with two excellent tackles.
Four-star tackle Jermaine Eluemunor could be watching Allen's blindside in years to come. The 6'5, 300-pound lineman from Scranton, Pa.'s Lackawanna County Community College is ranked as the No. 7 JUCO player in the country and No. 3 junior college offensive tackle, and received a four-star rating. He chose A&M over Alabama, UCLA, Ohio State, and Arkansas, among others.
Avery Gennesy, another JUCO offensive tackle, picked A&M over Ohio State, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Baylor. Gennesy, who stands 6'5 and weighs 307 pounds, is a Southaven, Miss. native and attended East Mississippi Community College. The four-star prospect is ranked No. 9 nationally among JUCO players and No. 5 among JUCO tackles.
Elsewhere in the SEC, Tennessee enrolled four-star offensive tackle Dontavius Blair and South Carolina enrolled four-star defensive tackle Abu Lamin. Tennessee is particularly notable for its class of early enrollees, bringing in FOURTEEN. That's more than anybody in the country brought in last year.
And while they aren't bringing in instant-impact JUCO linemen, Oklahoma is bringing in two JUCO prospects that it feels could contribute early, and Auburn is bringing in one of the best JUCO receivers to come along in years.
Skipping prom to earn early playing time
The benefits of early enrolling impact non-quarterback high schoolers as well, particularly if they come in at a position that is light on depth.
Brady Hoke hopes that Drake Harris will give Michigan a spark. Harris, a four-star wide receiver recruit out of Grand Rapids (Mich.) Christian, is one of seven Michigan players who will have a step up on the rest of the 2014 class once next season rolls around. His early enrollment could go a long way in landing him playing time as a true freshman. Harris chose Michigan over offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State and others. He should provide immediate help on the outside for the Wolverines. Harris is rated as the No. 6 wide receiver and the No. 63 player nationally in the Composite.
Raekwon McMillan could very well earn a starting position in Columbus. He's a five-star linebacker from Liberty County High School in Hinesville, Ga. The 6'2, 242-pound McMillan was ranked as the nation's No. 19 player and the top inside linebacker in the country. He chose the Buckeyes over offers from more than a dozen power schools. Given Ohio State's lack of depth at linebacker, McMillan could be in line to contribute early.
In Coral Gables, the unexpected departure of Malcolm Bunche has left a spot potentially open at tackle. The Hurricanes have one of the best tackle tandems in the country coming in, and both have enrolled early. Kc McDermott, a four-star offensive tackle recruit out of Palm Beach Central in West Palm Beach, Fla., is one of the top prospects at his position in the country. McDermott chose Miami over offers from a number of other schools around the nation, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame and Wisconsin. He's ranked as the third-best OT in America and fourth-best player in the state of Florida by the Composite. And Trevor Darling, of Miami (Fla.) Central, is also a four-star, though perhaps not quite the prospect that McDermott is.
Staying in the ACC, Virginia Tech is bringing in two running backs who could get a strong look at major playing time. And Florida State is bringing in five early enrollees, though it doesn't appear like any are a strong bet to start on a national title team bringing back a lot of its roster.