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SportsMonday Column: The trials and tribulations of an early enrollee

BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 7, 2010

Michigan football recruit Austin White took 10 classes last semester.

Ten classes.

The running back, one of the Michigan football team’s seven early enrollees in this year’s top-20 recruiting class, traveled to Ann Arbor for most of the home games last fall. After the first couple weekends, he started thinking about finishing his studies at Livonia Stevenson High School and coming to campus for the Winter 2010 semester.

He had talked to receiver Ricardo Miller, whose outspoken personality and phone calls to various recruiting prospects definitely helped Rich Rodriguez pull this impressive class together, and a couple of the other newcomers, realizing that the early-enrollee route was the way to go.

But that was the problem.

Most players who graduate early make that decision during their junior season — the summer before senior year at the latest. That gives them time to take summer classes and finish all their high school requirements.

White didn’t have that luxury.

On top of his six-class schedule during the Fall 2009 semester and his team’s workouts, practices and games, White took four online self-taught courses to help him reach graduation status.

Some of his self-taught classes included meteorology and — brace yourself — bowling.

And don’t underestimate an online bowling class, like almost everyone who White told obviously did.

“Bowling was probably the hardest class I had last semester,” White said at the National Signing Day press conference. “You know, if I had like 20 pages of reading for Meteorology, I would have 40 for Bowling. And then there was a bunch of terminology and phrases that I had never heard before.”

During football season, White couldn’t focus on his online classes, because, well, there just wasn’t time in his daily routine. So he had to finish some classes in a matter of weeks, after the state playoffs, but before the end of the semester.

I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I could have pulled off that kind of feat when I was a senior in high school. I could barely toast my own Pop Tarts in the morning.

The sacrifices these guys make to come to Michigan early and get into the football program immediately are exceptional. On Signing Day, I spoke with White, Miller, quarterback Devin Gardner and running back Stephen Hopkins, and they all had pretty big hurdles to leap to get here — albeit maybe not as intense as White’s chock-full schedule.

Before I talked to these guys last week, I never really put that much thought into how these players accomplish graduating early. Not only prior to coming to Michigan, but after. They’re missing Prom, graduation and all of that sentimental stuff to come here and help rebuild a college football behemoth that’s in need of a serious boost.

Really, it’s outstanding how much work these guys have already put in to help out the Michigan program. Miller said he took advanced-level courses through freshman and sophomore year, which helped him build credits toward an early graduation. And Gardner had to deal with his Inkster school district, which had never had a student graduate early, and thus was skeptical about letting him do so.

Eventually, everything worked out.

“I was on my way to a visit (to Ann Arbor), and coach called me and said, ‘Don’t come back,’ ” Gardner said with a laugh.

But that was two weeks after the semester began. So Gardner had to play two-week catch up while trying to adjust to the college lifestyle.

These guys are dedicated to Michigan and Rodriguez. And that might be just what the beleaguered Michigan coach needs — a group of players that not only fit his style but also have bought into the program and can develop into team leaders.

Honestly, there’s no telling whether Rodriguez will be here in four years, especially if he can’t pull out a winning record next Fall. But, if he is, from what I saw in these guys on Wednesday, he’s going to have something special when these guys are seniors.

— Reid can be reached at andyreid@umich.edu.