ATHENS – The six newest members of the Georgia football team were having a good ol’ time on Saturday afternoon. They laughed and jokingly pushed each other, talking about the ovation they got when introduced to fans at halftime of a basketball game. As a team staffer ushered them down a hallway, one yelled out to quarterback Jake Fromm: “You’re the leader, so get out front!”
(He didn’t, at least not right away.)
They had every right to enjoy themselves, because other parts of enrolling early are pure work: Offseason workouts, spring practice, college-level classes instead of high school senior slumping.
“It’s tough, but I’m glad to be doing it early though. I would hate to come into the summer blind,” then-freshman defensive tackle Julian Rochester said last year after enrolling early. “At least I know what I’m doing for the next six months. I get to be ahead of my classmates when they all come in so it’s all good.”
Rochester ended up playing a lot as a freshman. So did quarterback Jacob Eason, tight end Isaac Nauta and receiver Riley Ridley. Two other early enrollees didn’t, and one of them wasn’t even on the team by the summer.
Enrolling early is supposed to get players a jump on the competition and help them, and the team, in the long run. So what is the history of early enrolling?
Mostly good. But not completely.
It’s not a recent innovation. Eric Zeier did it in 1991, and went on to a great year. But it only recently became a trend: Georgia has had 59 players enroll early since 2006 – 33 of those in the past five years.
Quarterbacks almost always do so. Matt Stafford, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta, Jacob Park, Eason, and now Jake Fromm all did so. The only recent starting quarterback who didn’t enroll early was Hutson Mason, and he didn’t get his first start until late in his redshirt junior year. (Greyson Lambert started for Georgia in 2015 after transferring in from Virginia, where he had enrolled early three years before.)
While it seems a requirement for freshman now, especially if they have a chance of playing early – Stafford, Murray and Eason all did – it’s more a luxury at other positions.
There have been success stories: Current starters Natrez Patrick and Jonathan Ledbetter (2015 early enrollees), John Atkins (2013), and former Georgia standouts Chris Conley (2011), Keith Marshall (2012), and future pros: Asher Allen, Kris Durham, Ben Jones, Tavarres King and Corey Irvin.
Jake Ganus, who was the team MVP in 2015, was a transfer from UAB who also enrolled early, in the spring semester before his one year at Georgia.
But others haven’t been able to take advantage of the arriving early. And last year defensive back Chad Clay was dismissed from the team in late spring after a couple arrests.
Georgia’s notorious 2013 class had the most early enrollees in program history: Thirteen. Among those were some future starters (Atkins, Quincy Mauger, Chris Mayes, Reggie Carter), but a handful of others completed their eligibility elsewhere (Tray Matthews, Tramel Terry, Josh Cardiello, J.J. Mayes).
Click here for a full historical list of Georgia’s early enrollees, dating back to the 1980s.