Early enrollees make an impact
Marcus Forston moved 11.3 miles in January and wound up on another planet. Back at Miami Northwestern High, Forston could toss aside blockers with ease. In his new world, the University of Miami practice field, blockers crashed into Forston from all directions. They employed techniques he'd never imagined. By August, Forston must learn to sense those blockers and counter those techniques.
"I started crawling all over again," Forston said. "I have to start walking."
Forston must develop quickly, because he has no choice. He is one of seven signees who skipped the spring of their senior year to enroll at Miami, and the Hurricanes' lack of depth at defensive tackle will almost certainly force Forston into the rotation. Forston is not alone, though. The BCS conference schools (and Notre Dame) took in a combined 105 early enrollees this year, and a handful of those youngsters will be asked to contribute immediately -- either by virtue of phenomenal talent, a lack of depth at their position or a combination of the two.
Here are eight schools that will count on early enrollees to play right away:
Miami: Several players at The U will, at some point this month, head to the nearest formalwear store and rent some hideous bowtie-and-vest combo to wear to the senior prom. In a few months, several of those players will have to contribute if the Hurricanes hope to rebound from a 5-7 season.
Along with Forston, linebackers Arthur Brown and Sean Spence will compete for starting jobs. On offense, receiver Aldarius Johnson should play early, and Northwestern High teammate Jacory Harris is competing with redshirt freshman Robert Marve for the starting quarterback job. Even if Marve wins the job, Harris may still play as a change of pace.
"Those guys will be able to contribute right away," Miami coach Randy Shannon said. "They're not true freshmen anymore. They're more like redshirt freshmen."
Georgia: The nation's most loaded team couldn't possibly have a true freshman starter, right? Not only is Bulldogs coach Mark Richt considering starting a true freshman, he might also use that freshman at a position typically reserved for a veteran. Ben Jones, a 6-2, 306-pounder from Centreville, Ala., could start at center. Jones impressed coaches all spring, and if he develops in August, he may wind up allowing coaches to move current starting center Chris Davis back to guard, where Davis started every game last season.
Jones earned more respect from his coaches this spring when he played through a sprained ankle to keep himself on the two-deep depth chart. "You can tell he's trying like mad to do it just the way coach says," Richt said. "You can see he's coming. I don't know if he's coming fast enough to start in the fall, but I'm not going to put it past him."
Boston College: Josh Haden will follow in the footsteps of older brother, Joe, who enrolled early at Florida last year and wound up starting at cornerback. The younger Haden showed up early as Chestnut Hill and finished spring as the Eagles' No. 1 option at tailback. BC coach Jeff Jagodzinski said he doesn't plan to throw nearly as much in the post-Matt Ryan era, so Haden could carry much of the load. "He's been very good for us," Jagodzinski said last month. "He brings some explosion to our backfield."
Cal: The surprise transfer of James Montgomery and a hip injury to Jahvid Best gave freshman Covaughn DeBoskie a chance to carry the ball more during spring practice, and DeBoskie might parlay that opportunity into playing time during the season. DeBoskie may not start, but he should compete for carries.
Florida: During the Gators' nationally televised spring game, Coach Urban Meyer stopped the action and trotted out freshman kicker Caleb Sturgis. After Sturgis split the uprights from increasingly difficult distances, Meyer placed the ball on the 43-yard line -- a 60-yard field goal. Sturgis missed his first two attempts, but he drilled a third, bringing a smile to the face of a coach who knows he'll probably have to rely on the 17-year-old Sturgis to kick field goals and extra points come August.
That's why Meyer made Sturgis kick 60-yarders in front of thousands of fans and a national television audience on ESPN. "I was about three feet in front of his face in front of 60,000 people on national television, and he's what, 17 years old?" Meyer said. "How do you get that game rep (in practice)?"
Florida State: Each of the "Big Three" in the Sunshine State could start an early enrollee if FSU linebacker Nigel Bradham lives up to his lofty billing. Even if Bradham isn't ready, he may have to start anyway. Though no one at the school will confirm exactly who is suspended, the Seminoles' linebacker corps could be depleted for the first three games as a result of the fallout from last year's academic fraud scandal.
Bradham, from nearby Wakulla, was one of the nation's top linebacker prospects, and he reinforced that assessment with a solid spring. And since Bradham was in high school when the suspended players received the answers for a test in a music class, he may find himself replacing them for the first quarter of the season.
Clemson: Bobby may not be the only Bowden starting an early enrollee. Son Tommy could very well hand a starting defensive end spot to freshman DaQuan Bowers. Bowers, from Bamberg, was the top-rated prep pass rusher in the nation last season, and some analysts considered him the nation's best high school player. He dominated the ESPN/UnderArmour all-star game, and he proved during his first spring practice that his freakish athletic gifts should help him make a quick adjustment to the college game.
Bowers made four tackles for loss in Clemson's spring game. Afterward, Bowden said Bowers certainly will play, but he stopped short of saying Bowers had earned a starting job. Bowden said Bowers has grown from 270 to 280 pounds, and the coach would like to see his freshman stud show up to practice a bit leaner. "He's shown that he's going to be able to help us next year," Bowden said. "How much depends on how much progress he makes this summer."