It can’t be an easy decision for a high-schooler to choose to jump into college in what is supposed to be his final semester of his senior year. But that’s the life of an early enrollee. You sacrifice blow-off classes, late nights in your friends’ basements and prom in favor of spring practice, early lifting sessions and dining halls.
The benefit? A few extra months to get integrated with the team, learn the playbook and pursue the ever-enticing possibility of early playing time.
There are always a few players who take that additional work to heart. Texas A&M's Kyle Allen and Speedy Noil, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and Artavis Scott, and Alabama's Cam Robinson are among those who enrolled early last winter and went on to help their teams. Here are 10 early enrollees from the 2015 class who could be primed to make an impact this fall.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Jefferson was the cornerstone of a Texas class that was big on defense. The linebacker out of Mesquite Poteet (Texas) High runs a 4.5 40-yard dash and has the prototypical build (6-foot-2, 218 pounds) of a college linebacker. But aside from his statistical production at the high school level -- which he had plenty of -- he is a leader on the defensive side of the ball. Charlie Strong has a clear vision of what sort of defense he wants to build, and Jefferson fits that profile to a T.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Rosen is the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2015 class, per Rivals.com, and just so happens to play the biggest position of need for a UCLA team that paradoxically boasts youth and experience. With Brett Hundley’s departure to the NFL, Rosen's early arrival on campus is important. It sometimes feels like the only language the Bellflower, Calif., native speaks is football, and he has the potential to push for the starting job in fall camp. If he wins it, he’ll be surrounded by veterans: The Bruins return every offensive starter except Hundley.
Derwin James, S, Florida State
While other recruits were waffling over their decisions, James was sitting pretty. He made up his mind a long time ago. That’s a great thing for Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles, who get arguably the best safety in the 2015 class. James is exactly what coaches want out of that position: He is quick, strong and reacts well when the ball is in the air. The lack of drama might cause people to overlook James. If his high school play was any indication, that should change come fall.
Canton Kaumatule, DE, Oregon
Oregon’s defensive improvement under coordinator Don Pellum played a critical role in the Ducks' run to the national championship game. Landing a player like Kaumatule should help that upward trend continue. He is enormous (6-7, 290 pounds) and tenacious, and can help the team right away. If he can get better in pass-rushing situations, Kaumatule could become an all-conference player.
Albert Huggins, DE, Clemson
Clemson keeps winning double-digit games and landing touted classes under Dabo Swinney. This year proved no exception. While 2014 featured an offensive reboot following the departures of quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, this fall will bring an overhaul of the defense. The Tigers must replace several very productive players, including star defensive end Vic Beasley. Huggins, who has been generating rave reviews from Swinney, will have a chance to make his mark.
Blake Barnett, QB, Alabama
The quarterback competition between Blake Sims and Jacob Coker was a major talking point entering last season. This year’s battle at Alabama should be equally compelling. Barnett will have as good a chance as Coker and Cooper Bateman to force his way into the mix, and Nick Saban acknowledged as much. "If he's the best player, why would we not play him?" Saban told reporters on Signing Day. Barnett has the arm to match his impressive size, but also moves well if a play breaks down. Sounds a little bit like last year’s Crimson Tide starter.
Jerry Tillery, DT, Notre Dame
Don’t sleep on this Under Armour All-America selection out of Shreveport, La. Tillery already switched from offense to defense, and the move could pay dividends out of the gate. There is less competition at Notre Dame's defensive tackle spot, and Tillery’s big body (6-6, 314 pounds) eats up space and fills gaps. He will have a few months to hone his technique. With starting nose tackle Jarron Jones still out after foot surgery, he’ll get reps in the spring as well.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Texas A&M offense was already in good shape. Getting Kirk to campus for some extra work is the equivalent of adding bacon aioli to a bacon-stuffed burger. Kirk can make plays all over the field and has that ever-important touch factor -- any time he gets the ball he could go for a score. Quarterback Allen finished 2014 strong for the Aggies, and introducing Kirk to his arsenal should only makes the rising sophomore’s job easier.
Shy Tuttle, DT, Tennessee
Aside from having one of the best names in the 2015 class, Tuttle is one of the better players in the Volunteers’ incredibly gifted haul. He is already on campus (along with juco transfer tailback Alvin Kamara, among others), and although consensus five-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie is drawing most of the attention, Tuttle will get time this spring to show what he can do. The Davidson, N.C., native looks the part. With some extra muscle, he could be scary good.
Kevin Toliver II, CB, LSU
Oh look, an incredibly talented defensive back will play in Baton Rouge. It's not like that has ever happened before. Toliver is huge for his position (6-2, 193 pounds) and seems comfortable playing in both man and zone coverage. He is impressive on film and should be in line to help the Tigers as they seek to bounce back from a largely disappointing 2014 campaign.
Also considered: DT Jonathan Ledbetter, Georgia; OL Austin Clark, Virginia Tech; LB Cameron Smith, USC; DT Beiden Fehoko, Texas Tech; QB Jarrett Stidham, Baylor; DE Jashon Cornell, Ohio State; QB Alex Delton, Kansas State