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May 5, 2010

Early enrollees get a jump on the competition

Early enrollees are becoming more in vogue for numerous reasons, chief among them the opportunity for the player to become acclimated to college life quicker than his classmates.

Players also can become acclimated to football quicker, which is why more and more coaches seem to be pushing early enrollment.

Coaches who turn to junior college transfers often want a quick fix at a position. When a JC transfer is able to enroll early and go through spring practice, coaches can get a better idea of whether that player can provide a quick fix. Frankly, it also gives coaches an idea of whether that transfer is going to be a bust.

The stakes usually aren't as high for a high school player who enrolls early. There are some who wow coaches and earn a starting spot, but for the most part, it seems prep stars who come in early do so to start getting bigger and to start truly learning the playbook.

Here's a look at 10 early enrollees - both high school players and JC transfers - who impressed their coaches this spring. By no means is this a comprehensive list; rather, it's a look at guys who went a long way toward nailing down starting jobs for teams that really needed a starter at that position or guys who surprised by staking a claim for a starting job that seemed likely to go to someone else.

The players are listed alphabetically.

CLASS: Freshman
PARTICULARS: 6-6/280; four-star prospect from Arlington (Texas) High
BUZZ: A&M has a ton of skill-position talent, but the line has been a problem for a while now. Joeckel may help solve some of those issues. He emerged from spring drills as the starting left tackle, and his job this fall will be to hold off an expected challenge from another true freshman, Jake Matthews. Joeckel could move to the right side if Matthews performs as expected.
CLASS: Freshman
PARTICULARS: 5-11/185; four-star prospect from Gainesville (Ga.) High
BUZZ: Jones, whose first name is Tai-ler, moved his way onto the first team midway through spring drills and stayed there the rest of the way. He caught an 18-yard TD pass in the spring game. Notre Dame is looking for a complementary receiver for star WR Michael Floyd, and Jones could be that guy. His dad, Andre, was a defensive end at Notre Dame from 1987-91 and played on the Irish's 1988 national championship team. His uncle is Philip Daniels, a veteran NFL defensive end.
CLASS: Junior
PARTICULARS: 6-2/295; three-star prospect from Copiah-Lincoln CC in Wesson, Miss.
BUZZ: Langley, originally from Germantown (Md.) Seneca Valley, signed with Tennessee out of high school but ended up in junior college. He had a great spring for a Texas Tech team that has changed its defense and is looking to become more physical. While Langley is on the stout side, he has some pass-rush moves. New coordinator James Willis singled him out numerous times for his consistency.
CLASS: Junior
PARTICULARS: 6-6/247; five-star prospect from Blinn College in Brenham, Texas
BUZZ: Newton originally is from Atlanta Westlake and signed with Florida as a five-star prospect in 2007 - the same class as new Gators starting quarterback John Brantley. Newton played as a true freshman that fall, then redshirted in 2008. He transferred in early 2009 to Blinn, which he proceeded to guide to the junior college national championship. Newton signed with Auburn fully expecting to be the starter this fall, and he emerged from spring drills atop the depth chart. He is a big, physical runner who gives coordinator Gus Malzahn a big-time rushing weapon at quarterback. His passing remains a bit on the raw side, but no one doubts his athleticism.
CLASS: Freshman
PARTICULARS: 6-0/200; three-star prospect from Klein (Texas) Klein Forest
BUZZ: The Utes are rebuilding their secondary. Payne has a good chance to start at free safety this fall as Utah looks to replace star FS Robert Johnson. Payne's uncle, Harvey Williams, was a running back at LSU and in the NFL.
CLASS: Junior
PARTICULARS: 6-5/271; two-star recruit from Butte College in Oroville, Calif.
BUZZ: Rankin, originally from Shallotte (N.C.) West Brunswick, was a decorated junior college player who signed with Washington State in February 2009 but delayed his enrollment until January 2010. For our purposes, he counts as an early enrollee this year. Rankin was an end in junior college but moved inside and wreaked havoc for the Cougars. He held up well against the run and also gives Washington State a sorely needed pass-rushing presence. The Cougars' defensive line has some potential, and Rankin is a big reason; he has star qualities.
CLASS: Freshman
PARTICULARS: 6-1/175; four-star prospect from Carlsbad (Calif.) La Costa Canyon
BUZZ: Oklahoma seemed to be set at the starting wide receiver spots, but Stills has caused coaches to re-think that. His spring performance was so strong that it wouldn't be a surprise if he trots out on the field as a starter in the season opener. He had six catches for 84 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Stills runs great routes and has excellent hands.
CLASS: Junior
PARTICULARS: 6-1/240; three-star prospect from Foothill College in Los Altos, Calif.
BUZZ: Thomas was a fullback in high school at Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra. His ability to stop the run is what impressed IU coaches during spring drills. He's a tough, physical linebacker, something the Hoosiers' defense needs.
CLASS: Freshman
PARTICULARS: 6-5/220; two-star prospect from Miramar (Fla.) High
BUZZ: Williams, who guided Miramar to the state title in Florida's largest classification, is in a battle with Miami transfer Cannon Smith for the Tigers' starting quarterback job. Williams' stellar play for new Tigers coach Larry Porter was a big surprise. Smith, meanwhile, is the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith.
CLASS: Junior
PARTICULARS: 6-2/300; three-star prospect from Hutchinson CC in Hutchinson, Kan.
BUZZ: Zellars originally is from Anderson (S.C.) High. Tulsa was looking for a run-stuffer in the middle, and Zellars fit the bill. He ran with the No. 1 defense for almost all of spring and should start at nose tackle this fall. Coach Todd Graham went so far as to call Zellars the star of the spring on the defensive line.

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