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December 15, 2008

Early enrollees rising

Although it's still a topic of controversy to some, early enrollment continues to be a trend in college football that doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.

According to figures gathered by USA-Today, 69 recruits decided to enter college in January, a number that jumped to 105 in 2008.

"It's very helpful for the guys if they're able to do it," Georgia coach Mark Richt said in an earlier interview with UGASports. "They're able to get an early start with spring practice they're out there competing and get a chance to make an early impression."

That's the way freshman running back Richard Samuel saw it.

Samuel, along with wide receiver Tavarres King, running back Dontavius Jackson, center Ben Jones and linebacker Akeem Hebron each enrolled early and began taking classes in January before taking part in Mat Drills and later spring practice.

"I think it was a huge benefit," Samuel said. "Just being able to come in early and get a grasp on the offense I think helped tremendously."

It certainly helped Jones.

The Alabama native quickly established himself as one of the Bulldogs' better offensive linemen and earned the starting center position four games into the 2008 campaign. King and Hebron were both receiving some playing time as well before injuries ended their season. Coaches decided to redshirt Jackson and King is seeking a medical redshirt after injuring his ankle in Week 4 at Arizona State.

This year, quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, along with offensive lineman Dallas Lee, are scheduled to graduate early and begin taking classes in January. Linebacker Chase Vasser was as well but has since decided to wait until June to report. Hargrave Military Academy defensive end Toby Jackson, a 2008 signee, also hopes to enroll in January but still must achieve a qualifying score on his ACT.

But what exactly does it take to become eligible as a January enrollee to begin with?

According to NCAA.org, eligibility requirements include full-time student status, grade point average minimum standards, declaration of a major and a limit of the number of year's participation in a varsity sport. .

Each candidate must also have completed 16 credited hours.

Broken down, that includes:

4 years of English

3 years of mathematics (Algebra I or higher)

2 years of natural/physical science (one must be a lab science)

1 year of additional English, math or science

2 years of social studies

4 years of additional core courses (from a list approved by the NCAA, or from foreign language, non-doctrinal religion or philosophy).

There are other considerations, too.

A player who enrolls in January does not count as part of that year's recruiting class since he comes to school prior to that year's class which signs letters of intent in February.

So, for early entrants to be allowed to enroll, there already has to be enough scholarships on hand, either due to attrition or because a team is not at the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarship players on a roster.

The early enrollment process also begs another question:

Since early enrollees do not actually sign their scholarship until Signing Day (the first Wednesday in February), could a player technically enroll in school then change his mind and go somewhere else before a scholarship is actually signed?

The answer is apparently yes.

According to Georgia sports information, since the athlete is technically a student and not an athlete until the scholarship is signed, he could, if he so desired change his mind and elect to go somewhere else.

Interestingly, it was former Georgia quarterback Eric Zeier who was one of the pioneers for the early enrollees when he started taking classes in January of 1991, prior to his freshman season at UGA.

Current quarterback Matthew Stafford was also an early enrollee and he wound up starting for the Bulldogs his freshman year. Florida's Tim Tebow was an early enrollee at Florida.

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