Early enrollees have played a vital part of the Crimson Tide’s success on both sides of the ball since Nick Saban took over the University of Alabama football program in 2007.
Defensive backs like Kareem Jackson and Dee Milliner, who both started double digit games as true freshman, played major roles on the Crimson Tide defense after making the decision to enroll early at the Capstone.
Derrick Henry headed to Tuscaloosa after participating in the Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
On offense, Alabama fans need look no further back than this season to see the impact that early enrollees can have. Both T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper were early enrollees and can be largely credited with the Crimson Tide’s offensive success in 2012, with Yeldon rushing for over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns to go with Cooper being the team’s top receiver and one of the SEC’s best.
This January, seven high school prospects, four of which are members of 247Sports’ top 100 and two of them five-stars, have made that same decision to skip their final semester of high school in hopes of becoming the next wave of great Alabama players to make the early jump to college. The Crimson Tide will also add two big-name walk-ons making it nine early enrollees.
Here is a look at the prospects that plan to enroll early, broken down by position, and how they fit in to the Crimson Tide’s plans going forward.
Cooper Bateman, Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood- Bateman is one of the top Pro-Style quarterbacks in the 2013 class and has been committed to Alabama since last May. The Crimson Tide made depth at the quarterback position a top priority for the 2013 signing class and the experience gained this spring could be instrumental in Bateman’s ability to challenge for playing time in his freshman season.
Parker McLeod, Marietta (Ga.) Walton- McLeod played in a run-first system throughout his high school career at Walton, so this spring will be important for McLeod to get as many reps as possible, in order to gain some much needed experience in the passing game. McLeod will also need to put on some good weight in the off-season and should benefit from the extra time spent with Scott Cochran. McLeod will likely red-shirt his freshman year.
Luke Del Rio, Littleton (Colo.)Valor Christian- Del Rio, the son of Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, opted to join the Alabama program as a preferred walk-on. The Elite11 quarterback was committed to Oklahoma State, but decommitted from the Cowboys after former offensive coordinator Todd Monken took the head coaching post at Southern Miss. Del Rio turned down several offers to play for Alabama, including tenders from Oregon State, Colorado State, and UCLA.
O.J. Howard was one of Alabama's first commitments in the 2013 class.
Derrick Henry, Yulee (Fla.)- [/b]Derrick Henry[/b] may have rushed for 12,243 yards in his career, a national high school record, but that does not mean the jumbo athlete is a lock to playing running back for the Crimson Tide next season. Henry’s early arrival on campus is important because it gives the Crimson Tide staff an opportunity to play Henry in several roles in order to find out how he best fits in the offense. Regardless, the prolific runner has the chance to be special at the next level.
Raheem Falkins, New Orleans (La.) Carver- Falkins will be looking to follow in the footsteps of former Alabama early enrollee Amari Cooper’s fine freshman campaign. Falkins brings his elite height (6’4.5) and leaping ability to Alabama’s receiving corps and with DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell coming off of leg surgeries this season, it could be an opportunity for the New Orleans native to come in and turn some heads this spring.
O.J. Howard, Prattville (Ala.) Autauga Academy- While there is little doubt that the five-star prospect has the athletic ability to make an impact as a true freshman, Howard will need to use spring practice to learn the playbook and adjust to the speed and skill level, considering that he played high school football for a small private school in Autauga Academy. Howard should also really benefit from the added time spent in the weight room this off-season and add some good weight going into the fall.
Leon Brown, Brooklyn (N.Y.) ASA College- If current Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker decides to forego his senior season and enter the NFL draft, Leon Brown may quickly become the Crimson Tide’s best option at right tackle. Brown, Like former Alabama left tackle and first-round draft pick James Carpenter, Brown is a highly touted JUCO prospect with all of the physical tools to step in opposite Cyrus Kouandjio next season.
Brandon Hill, Chatham (Va.) Hargrave Military Academy- With Hill deciding to enroll at the Capstone this January, he will need to use this spring to really focus on getting his weight and conditioning in order. The jumbo tackle prospect moves very well for a young man of his size and the Alabama staff believes that Hill could turn into an elite right tackle prospect down the road. A red-shirt will be likely for Hill, much like current Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker when he arrived on campus.
Jai Miller, Selma (Ala.)- The former Major League Baseball player and class of 2003 three-sport star has opted to enroll at Alabama where he will be a non-scholarship player with the Florida Marlins paying for his tuition per his initial contract with the club. Miller signed with Stanford out of high school to play football and basketball, but spurned the Cardinal for the big leagues. Now approaching 28 years old, Miller is looking to return to football and how much the 6-foot-2.5, 220-pounder contributes will have to do with how well he re-acclimates himself to football.