Thousands of young men and women will realize their dreams of playing college athletics when they sign their national letter-of-intent Wednesday. This will signify the end of their prep careers and the beginning of their collegiate ones. But while they are basking in their accolades and accomplishments, there are some who have already started their new journeys.
The phrase “early enrollment” is one that is not uncommon in educational circles but it is still a rarity in athletics. Those athletes that understand the benefits of enrolling early put themselves at a decided advantage over those that go the traditional route.
In football, early enrollees start a full semester before their traditional contemporaries. Because they begin during the spring semester, they get to participate in the strength and conditioning programs with their new teams. They also get an opportunity to get onto the field during spring practices. They learn the system while the coaching staff is not concerned with preparing for opponents and can focus all their attention on skill development.
When traditional recruits finally arrive in the late summer, the early enrollees not only understand how things work as students but they know the expectations of the football programs. They can also already have enough credits to be considered sophomores. So why do more recruits not take advantage of this opportunity?
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Northeast High School football head coach Ashley Harden believes in the benefits of early enrollment but says that coaches need to be better educated.
“The biggest thing is coaches have to be educated about it so that they can really explain it to the kids the right way,” Harden said. “I know a lot of coaches know about it but I don’t know if a lot of coaches can really, really explain it to kids and put them on that track to do it.”
Warner Robins head coach Mike Chastain believes that sometimes it comes down to a matter of how your school is constructed and a player being focused academically from the start
“When you (enroll early) you have to be on track from the start. We have seven periods here which makes it easier but some of the school where there are only six periods, it makes it tougher,” Chastain said.
Both coaches agree that education is key for students to be able to take advantage of this opportunity and that even then the margin for error is thin.
“They see the kids being enrolled but they aren’t being informed of the process,” Harden said about educating the kids early. “They don’t know the steps they have to take and sometimes when they find out, they are doubling up on classes to try and make it up.
Chastain feels like you have to catch the kids early and lay out the plan as well.
“You try to get them to understand when they come in as freshmen that the moment you don’t get an A they have eliminated themselves from an Ivy League school,” said Chastain, “You talk to them about those processes that can set them up to take advantage of these opportunities.”