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Michigan recruit looks for edge by enrolling at Virginia prep school

Kevin Newsome, an honor student from Virginia who also plays a little quarterback, won't need any help to qualify academically to play college football. So why is Newsome headed to prep school next month?

Easy, the Michigan commitment said. "When they told me my first game would be against Navy," Newsome said, "I was like, 'Wow!' Then they told me my last game would be against Tennessee." As the signal-caller for Hargrave Military Academy's postgraduate team, Newsome won't face the varsity Midshipmen and Volunteers, but he will face their junior varsity teams, along with JV squads from Marshall and East Carolina. Meanwhile, at practice, Newsome will throw to receivers and dodge defensive ends who likely already have signed a national letter of intent with a BCS-conference program. "I get to experience the next level," Newsome said, "while I'm still on this level."

By enrolling at Hargrave while still a high-schooler, Newsome will join an elite club that includes USC receiver Vidal Hazelton, LSU back Keiland Williams and North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples. All three played on Hargrave's postgrad team while still pregrads, and Hargrave Coach Robert Prunty believes the experience better prepared those players for the adjustment to the college game.

Newsome spent his first three years of high school at Western Branch High in Chesapeake, Va. There, Coach Lew Johnston scrapped his old offense and installed a spread specifically for Newsome. But Western Branch can't schedule the Tennessee JV this year. "Where else can you get that?" Prunty said. "And look who he's getting to play against in practice every day."

On the practice field at Hargrave's bucolic Chatham, Va., campus, Newsome must dodge defensive end Toby Jackson, a 6-foot-4, 244-pound Georgia signee who is expected to enroll at Hargrave. Newsome also may line up behind offensive tackle Anthony Oden, a 2008 Arkansas signee who is the 6-10, 300-pound younger brother of Portland TrailBlazers center Greg Oden.

On gameday, Newsome will face scholarship athletes and walk-ons who probably all starred at their respective high schools. When Hargrave played the Tennessee JV last September at Neyland Stadium, Nick Stephens, who likely will be the top backup at quarterback for Jonathan Crompton this season, threw for 162 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Vols to a 37-20 win.

Prunty said the first high-schooler he accepted on the postgrad team was Hazelton, who played the 2005 season at Hargrave. As a USC sophomore in 2007, Hazelton caught 50 passes for 540 yards. Despite the success of Hazelton, Williams and Coples, the Carolina freshman Prunty believes will remind the Tar Heels of Julius Peppers, Prunty doesn't intend to stock his program from the high school ranks. He plans to accept no more than three high-schoolers a season. "They've got to be pretty special," Prunty said.

Prunty considers Newsome one of the special ones. The 6-3, 217-pounder is physically suited to pilot a spread offense, and he picked Michigan in April over a group that included Illinois, Penn State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Newsome's reluctance to discuss his commitment in recent months have led to rumors that he is looking at other schools -- Michigan accepted a commitment from Wichita Falls, Texas, quarterback Shavodrick Beaver five days after Newsome committed -- but Newsome said this week that he remains committed to the Wolverines.

Next month, Newsome will learn about an entirely different level of commitment. Hargrave is a 99-year-old boarding school with a faculty determined to instill military discipline in all its students. The experience will give Newsome a taste of life away from home before he leaves the nest for good next summer. "I say I love my mom every day," Newsome said. "But it's time to grow up and stop being a momma's boy."

That's not entirely true, though. Despite being four hours from home, Newsome won't have to go far for a home-cooked meal. As luck would have it, his maternal grandmother lives two miles from the Hargrave campus.

College football could have an early signing period as early as December as support for the idea continues to build in the coaching community. With more than 60 percent of coaches in favor of some sort of early signing plan, the American Football Coaches Association could propose a plan to conference commissioners in September.

The most likely plan would allow prospects to sign national letters-of-intent in December, most likely during the period between when schools finish final exams and the bowl season. Central Florida coach George O'Leary believes the third week of December is a perfect date because it would allow coaches to spend January focused on uncommitted players instead of babysitting committed ones.

"The key factor, I think, is really money," O'Leary said last week. "We still spend the same amount of money to actively recruit the verbal (commitments) as you are someone that isn't a verbal. I'd like to go back to what we used to have -- an early signing period -- which would really get those (committed) kids done. Now, you can spend time recruiting the rest of the class."

If you read this space regularly, you've already read my suggestion for fixing the commitment-to-signing-day conundrum. Just let the players sign whenever they want.

When a booster offers to cough up a pair of $100,000 donations within 90 days on the condition that a school fires its football coach and its athletic director, that's probably going to have a negative impact on recruiting. Still, even the more salacious details of the situation at Washington don't explain how the Huskies have managed to obtain commitments from exactly zero players for the class of 2009. (Either that, or they've gotten commitments from players who are unwilling, for whatever reason, to admit that they have committed to Washington.)

Robust programs such as Texas (19 commitments for '09) and rebuilding powers such as Florida State (14) have nearly wrapped up 2009 and turned their focus to 2010 and beyond. At Washington, recruits have to wonder could happen beyond the 2008 season.

In three seasons at Washington, Tyrone Willingham is 11-26. As the Huskies stumbled to a 4-9 finish last season, boosters began calling for Willingham to be fired. At the same time, others rushed to defend Willingham, who is one of the college game's better molders of young men. A nearly identical drama played out in 2004 at Notre Dame, where Willingham was dumped in favor of Charlie Weis. Willingham survived at Washington to reach season four, but unless his Huskies win a few more games, he won't have to worry about recruiting for season five.

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