Josiah Scott sees an opportunity for himself and wants to take advantage of it as soon as possible. That’s why he’s starting classes at Michigan State on Jan. 9 when the spring semester begins. Matt Dotson would like to do the same but circumstances won’t allow him. Cody White thought about enrolling early, but chose instead to take the traditional route of graduating high school in June before starting his college life.
Scott, Dotson and White have all committed to play football for Michigan State beginning next year. They will officially become members of the 2017 recruiting class on Feb. 1 when they sign their National Letters of Intents and send them to the MSU football office. Their respective starting points with the Spartans will differ, however.
Scott, a defensive back from Fairfield, Ohio, will be around for spring practices, as will tight end Jack Camper and wide receiver Hunter Rison because of early enrollment. Those three players have signed Big Ten tenders of financial aid, an agreement that binds them and Michigan State together until the official NLI is in place.
Last day of High School tomorrow ??
— Josiah Scott (@JosiahScott7) December 21, 2016
“It’s a good decision for me so I can go up there and get bigger, faster, stronger earlier than everyone else,” Scott said. “It’s a competitive edge. Also, they’re losing a couple of DBs this year so I feel like I can come in, put the work in early and get some early playing time.”
Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and Leonard Fournette of LSU brought the issue of player commitment to their college team to national attention with their recent announcements that they are skipping bowl games to prepare for the NFL Draft. They’ve made the decision not to risk personal injury nor to damage their current draft stock during a final college game.
Early enrollees are at the other end of the college game, trying to get a jump-start on their post-high school careers.
Instead of waiting to come to campus in the summer, more players are graduating high school in December of their senior years and enrolling in college in January. This gives them the chance to participate in spring practices and to get acclimated to college life sooner.
An Associated Press report from last April stated that all but four teams from the Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, SEC) had at least one early enrollee among their 2016 recruiting classes. That amounted to more than 250 players, including six at Michigan State. That’s the most early enrollees the Spartans have had since this trend began a decade ago.
The practice of football players graduating high school early and immediately enrolling in college in order to participate in spring workouts with their new teams has increased during the past decade. Here’s a look at players who have enrolled early for their freshman year at Michigan State (since 2011). (Information gathered through 247Sports.com)
|2017||TE Jack Camper, WR Hunter Rison, DB Josiah Scott|
|2016||LB Joe Bachie*, WR Cam Chambers, WR/CB Donnie Corley*,|
|QB Messiah deWeaver, OL Thiyo Lukusa*, S Kenney Lyke*|
|2015||DE Mufi Hunt, LB Tyriq Thompson|
|2014||LB Chris Frey*, TE Matt Sokol|
|2012||WR Kyle Kerrick|
|2011||DB Arjen Colquhoun|
* – played as a freshman
The choice isn’t the same for every recruit.
“I think it depends on the individual and what the goals are,” said Mike Zdebski, head coach at Walled Lake (Mich.) Western High School. “You have some kids coming out of high school, they want to go to college, be there for the minimum amount of time and get a shot at the league. Well, if that’s your goal, you might as well go early.
“But I think you only have your youth for so long, and as we get older we look back at those times, and it’s an easier time. Even though it seems like they’re really busy and there’s a lot of stress, when you get to our age, it’s not that bad. High school is an enjoyable time. High school is about friendships. You have your academics and certain courses are difficult, but it’s not like taking some of those courses in college. It’s not like being a professional and you’ve got a certain deadline to make and it can mean the survival of your company. I think enjoying this time here is a good thing.”
Zdebski has coached White the past four years. White is another 2017 Michigan State commit. He’s being recruited as a wide receiver, although White played nine different positions this past season in helping Walled Lake Western to the Michigan Division II state championship game. He was named Mr. Football by State Champs! Sports Network, an award won last year by current Michigan State wide receiver/cornerback Donnie Corley.
Corley was an early enrollee last January. White, though, has chosen to go through his entire senior year and wait to graduate with the rest of his class. He had multiple discussions with his family before making his decision. Besides football, White competes in basketball, baseball and track and field at Walled Lake Western.
“I’ve been playing four sports my entire life,” White said. “I’m not ready to get rid of it just yet. I’m going to finish out my senior year strong playing those four sports and then see how it goes in college.”
Benefits of early start
Corley benefited from his early enrollment last year.
He was third on the Spartans with 33 receptions and second with 453 receiving yards. He scored three touchdowns. The coaches added playing defense to his duties by the final month of the season because Corley had progressed to that level.
Offensive lineman Thiyo Lukusa, linebacker Joe Bachie and safety Kenney Lyke were other early enrollees who played as freshmen. Bachie and Lyke received their opportunities because of injuries to players ahead of them on the depth chart. The coaches trusted Bachie to the point that he played in the final six games, getting his first action after senior captain Riley Bullough was ejected from the Oct. 22 game at Maryland because of a targeting call.
Enrolling early doesn’t guarantee a player will get on the field his freshman season, but it does start the development process sooner.
Linebacker Chris Frey was an early enrollee in 2014. According to the 247Sports.com comparison data base, Frey was considered a 3-star recruit. He ended up being one of four freshmen out of his 21-player recruiting class to play that first season. Defensive lineman Malik McDowell (rated a 5-star recruit), safety Montae Nicholson (4-star) and offensive lineman Brian Allen (4-star) were the others.
“I came in early, and throughout the spring I saw there’s a possibility of me playing as a true freshman,” Frey said. “I had played pretty well throughout the spring, learned the defense and then as fall camp came around I was on all of the special teams as a one or a two. Throughout the camp, I moved my way up and I was ones on pretty much every special teams except for field goals, so I kind of expected to play as a freshman after that.”
‘Do what’s best for the kid’
Dotson is a tight end from Cincinnati Moeller. Among the 17 players listed by 247Sports.com as “hard commits” for Michigan State, he has the second-best ranking. Michigan State loses tight ends Josiah Price and Jamal Lyles to graduation. Matt Sokol, who enrolled early in 2014 and will be a redshirt junior in 2017, is at the top of the depth chart but there will be open competition for playing time.
Dotson has to wait until the summer to prove he’s worthy of earning some of that time. Moeller is a Catholic high school and has a senior religion class requirement that keeps Dotson from graduating early.
“I wish I could early enroll,” Dotson said.
Moeller coach John Rodenberg said his personal preference is that players stay their entire senior year. His belief was the same as Zdebski’s.
“Stick around and finish out your high school career. Go to prom. Go to graduation, because you know what these kids don’t realize is that as soon as they walk on campus, it gets real. It’s a job,” Rodenberg said. “I know enough guys that have played big-time college football and it’s not high school football anymore. It’s a grind. It’s a competition. I don’t think they realize that the sooner they start, the sooner they’re in it.”
Moeller’s graduation requirements mean Rodenberg doesn’t have to deal with kids graduating early, although he said the policy was almost challenged a couple of years ago by a quarterback wanting to enroll early. He doesn’t doubt that the policy will be challenged at some point.
“I think it’s best they finish out, but I don’t do what’s best. I do what’s best for the kid,” Rodenberg said. “I think if you’re a quarterback and you find out one of the other quarterbacks is leaving early, you better check your credits and, if you can get out of here, go. I think you’re done.”
Michigan State isn’t in the habit of playing freshmen, but the Spartans used nine last season – a record number under head coach Mark Dantonio. Four of those freshmen were among the 21 players who were first-time starters last season. Dantonio prefers freshmen acclimate to college that first year and use the redshirt designation as part of the development process, but circumstances don’t always allow that process.
Seasons like this past one in which the Spartans finished 3-9 mean there will be opportunities at every position. Freshmen, no matter when they arrive on campus, will have chances to play.
“It made me so eager to get up there and work way harder just to make sure that as soon as I step on campus I can help,” Dotson said.