AP photo by Jeff Blake|
Clemson freshman quarterback Willy Korn has traded his final high school semester to get a jump start on college classes, dorm room living and his new team's training regimen.
Prep football standouts getting jump on college life
By Pete Iacobelli
Associated Press Writer
CLEMSON, S.C. — Willy Korn knew early in high school that he wanted to play quarterback at Clemson. So, after the call came, Korn readily traded his final high school semester to get a jump start on college classes, dorm room living and his new team’s training regimen.
He’s not alone. More and more teenage phenoms are skipping high school proms and bidding farewell to parents so they can jump into college football one semester early. It’s not a new trend, either — San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers graduated from Athens High a semester early and immediately headed to North Carolina State in January 2000.
Players such as Korn say the biggest hassles of leaving home are navigating a new campus and learning when to hit the books — common challenges for many freshmen.
But the adjustment isn’t always so easy. Across the state from Clemson, South Carolina recruit Stephen Garcia has been arrested twice and suspended from the team’s spring practices before ever taking a snap in a Gamecocks uniform.
Critics say the pressure to win is driving coaches to pluck kids from their homes too early.
“I don’t like it,” said ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso.
“But if I were coaching today, I’d have to do it, too.”
When it works out, the advantages for high school recruits making early jumps to college are obvious. They learn how to get around, handle college coursework and live independently — all without the typical time crunch faced by recruits who have to quickly learn the same things while digesting complicated playbooks and launching into a football season.
Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford enrolled there last January and led the Bulldogs to three wins over ranked teams to close the season. He entered this spring as No. 1 on his team’s depth chart and credits his early arrival last year.
“It was definitely a big reason why I got on the field when I did,” Stafford said. “It was the right decision for me.”
Tales of athletes’ forfeited spring high school terms are always a phone call away. Players say former classmates often call to ask whether they’ll make the prom or walk with them at graduation. But recruits say the chance to get on a college field trumps anything they’re missing back home.
“I don’t regret what’s coming up,” said Clemson offensive lineman Landon Walker, one of five recent arrivals. “I’m going to miss my friends, but I’m glad I made this decision.”
Grant Teaff, who heads the American Football Coaches Association, said bringing players in early fits with coaches’ desires to “maximize their investments.” But he said the jury’s still out on how well the new trend helps teams, and how beneficial it is for teens to nix taking some time off like the recruits he brought to Baylor when he coached there.
“I think the feeling in those days was that youngsters are better off enjoying their last half of their senior year, usually coasting,” Teaff said. “Those are old-timey thoughts people used have.”
Garcia, by far the most heralded of South Carolina’s newcomers, is an example of the pitfalls facing early arrivals.
The 6-foot-2 quarterback from Florida was arrested Feb. 17 and charged with drunkenness and with failure to stop for a police officer, a charge that has since been dropped. Coach Steve Spurrier briefly suspended him from training with the team.
Less than two weeks later, Garcia was jailed again, this time accused of keying a professor’s car and causing more than $800 in damage. Spurrier, who first publicly defended his newest quarterback, then permanently suspended him from spring practices after Garcia turned himself in to police March 2.
On Wednesday, Garcia apologized in court to the professor and applied to enter a counseling and community service program rather than face prosecution for the misdemeanors. “He has true remorse,” said his lawyer, Neal Lourie. “He’s taken full responsibility. He’s sorry for what he’s done.”
School and athletic officials say most early arrivals cope well. In part, coaches believe the players can adjust and even make an early run at playing time because they’ve proven they can to manage time by graduating high school early.
“I think because of that level of maturity, there’s a good chance of (playing time) once they go through spring,” Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said.
Korn said that since he arrived at college he’s learned to cut off the marathon sessions of “Guitar Hero” video games so he can get his work done. And missing an easy spring term in high school is no trouble — he laughs off a high school buddy who calls him while he’s pouring over coursework.
“He’ll say, ‘You’re up studying? I’m going to bed,’ ” he said. “So, it’s definitely different here.”
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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