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The case for early enrollment

TUSCALOOSA _ Yes, they miss home. The transition from high school to college may be the biggest life-changing moments of their lives, never mind the huge differences on the football field, yet every year some elect to do so early to get a jump on their careers at the next level.

Alabama's early enrollees gave up their last semester in high school to get a head start on their college careers.

For the University of Alabama team, which just put the finishing touches on another top-ranked recruiting class, there were eight fresh faces on campus in January just days following the Sugar Bowl loss, including two junior-college players in defensive linemen D.J. Pettway and Jarran Reed.

But at least they already had strong ideas of what it was all about, especially Pettway, who had been with the Crimson Tide in 2011-12. The other six additions would otherwise be enjoying their final semesters in high school.

“It’s really tough,” said wide receiver Cameron Sims, who hails from Monroe, La.

“It was tough,” said quarterback David Cornwell, who’s from even further away, Oklahoma. “At first you’re a little homesick. But now you’re getting into it. You realize why you’re here. Getting better each day. Lifting with Coach (Scott) Cochran.

“Relationships with the players is probably the most important thing in this whole experience and I love every minute of it.”

At least with this group three hail from the same hometown, as tackle Cameron Robinson and safety Laurence Jones are both from Monroe as well, and are living together as roommates. That there are so many newcomers also seems to be helping even though cornerback Tony Brown did get arrested at a late-night party in January.

“Yeah, most definitely,” linebacker Shaun Hamilton said. “We can all depend on each other and hold each other accountable. That’s big.”

It’s almost hard to believe that when Nick Saban arrived in January 2007, the Crimson Tide only had two early enrollees that semester, and two the subsequent year as well. Of those four players, cornerback Kareem Jackson was the only one to stay at Alabama.

Cornerback Tony Brown is running track, and will look to make an impact this spring.

“I don’t think there’s any question about the fact that when you’re a mid-year guy your transition to college is a little smoother because you have more time to make the transition,” Saban said.

“When you come in the fall, you start practice, you have school, and you have the first game, all in a month. Now, our guys will be able to be here three or four weeks before we do anything at all in football. We lift weights for a couple of weeks then we start the season program. Then we have spring practice, then they have a month off in May then we go through it in the summertime in summer conditioning and then the fall they’re kind of going through things for the second or third time.”

Saban, though, doesn’t advise high school players to make the early jump, even if they might have the chance to compete for a starting spot.

“I think you make a sacrifice to do that,” Saban said. "You give up half your senior year. So that player has to want to do that, to me. If he wants do it, we’re fine with him doing it, but it’s not something that we encourage guys to do, but it does have its benefits in terms of transitioning into college life socially, academically and athletically.”

Here’s a look at Alabama’s early enrollees under Saban, including how they fared during the first year and overall:

2007
Kareem Jackson, CB: Started 12 games as a freshman and after the 2009 season left a year early for the NFL. Was a first-round draft pick by Houston.
Jamar Taylor, RB: Transferred to South Florida. Played three seasons with 117 carries for 477 yards and five touchdowns.

2008
Chris Jackson, WR: Played 12 game on special teams. Eventually transferred to Georgia Tech, where he had two receptions for 42 yards in 2011-12.
Corey Smith, K: Played three games for Alabama and eventually transferred to West Virginia, where he made 36 punts for an average of 40.5 yards in 2011-12.

2009
James Carpenter, T: The JUCO transfer won the left tackle job and was a two-year starter. After the 2010 season was a first-round draft pick by Seattle.
Kerry Murphy, DL: Played six games in 2009 and 12 in 2010, but his career ended early due to injury issues.
Jermaine Preyear, RB: After grayshirting due to a shoulder injury, enrolled, but transferred to Alabama State six months later. He played in seven games, with 31 carries for 152 yards.
Chance Warmack, G: Played in five games as a freshman and won a starting job as a sophomore. Became a unanimous All-American selection and was a first-round draft pick by Tennessee.

Linebacker Trey DePriest is the only early enrollee from 2011 expected to start this fall.

2010
Cade Foster, K: Played in all 53 games during his career, mostly handling kickoffs and long field-goal attempts, but was Alabama’s primary kicker in 2013.
Jalston Fowler, RB: Played in 11 games as a freshman, with 111 yards on 14 carries. A knee injury cut short his 2012 season, and he was more of a fullback/H-back in 2013. Has one year of eligibility remaining.
John Fulton, CB: Played in 13 games as a freshman and was a regular contributor on special teams. Played in 48 games during his career, with four starts.
Brandon Lewis, DL: Redshirted in 2010, moved to tight end and played in seven games in 2011, did not return for his final season.
Chad Lindsay, OL: Redshirted his first season. Has played in 19 games, with four starts heading into his senior season.
DeMarcus Milliner, CB: Started 11 games as a freshman and played in all 13 games. After being a unanimous All-American in 2012 left a year early and was a first-round draft pick of the New York Jets.
Phillip Sims, QB: After challenging for the starting job played in eight games in 2011 only to transfer to Virginia, where in 2012 he completed 114 of 203 passes for 1,263 yards and nine touchdowns.
Austin Shepherd: OL: Redshirted as a true freshman and played in 17 games the next two years as a reserve. As a junior started all 13 games at right tackle in 2013.

2011
Ronald Carswell, WR: Redshirted, was suspended, transferred to Itawamba Community College for the 2012 season, transferred to West Virginia for 2013, was suspended and is no longer on the roster.
Trey DePriest, LB: Played as a freshman, mostly on special teams, and made 25 tackles. Has made 26 starts over the past two seasons and has one more year of eligibility.
Quinton Dial, DL: The junior-college transfer played in 12 games his first season on the Capstone, and all 13 his final season before being a fifth-round draft pick by San Francisco.
Aaron Douglas, T: Died from an accidental overdose in Fernandina Beach, Fla., in May, 2011. Never played a game for the Crimson Tide.
Phillip Ely, QB: Redshirted and played in six games during the 2012 season before transferring to Toledo.
Wilson Love, DL: Redshirted his first season, but has yet to play in a game.
Vinnie Sunseri, S: Was an immediate force on special teams and ended his freshman season as the dime defensive back, while totaling 31 tackles. Made 54 tackles as a sophomore, but after winning the strong safety job as a junior sustained a torn ACL. Left a year early for the NFL.
Jesse Wiliams, DL: The junior-college transfer started every game his first season at defensive end, and then played nose guard his final year. Was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft by Seattle.

2012
Ryan Anderson, LB: Redshirted his first season. Played in 13 games and had five tackles this past season.
Deion Belue, CB: Won a starting job and played all 14 games, with two interceptions. However, the junior-college transfer was limited by a toe injury his final season, when he had one interception in 10 starts.
Chris Black, WR: Redshirted after sustaining a shoulder injury. Played in eight games last season with eight receptions for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
Amari Cooper: Set numerous Alabama freshman receiving records with 59 catches for 1,000 yards, and set a program record with 11 receiving touchdowns. Was slowed by injuries his sophomore year, but still led the Crimson Tide with 45 catches for 736 yards.
Travell Dixon, CB: The junior-college transfer left school before the fall and transferred to Washington. Is eligible to play for the Huskies in 2014.
Dillon Lee, LB: Played in eight games as a true freshman and had an interception against Michigan in his debut. Had 16 tackles in 13 games this past season.
Alphonse Taylor, OL: Came in as a nose guard, was quickly switched to guard and redshirted. Practiced as a second-line reserve last season.
T.J. Yeldon, RB: Was named the A-Day MVP and kept going, rushing for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. Topped that with 1,235 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore.

2013
Cooper Bateman, QB: Redshirted.
Leon Brown, OL: Played in eight games as a reserve tackle and then started at right guard in the Sugar Bowl.
Luke Del Rio, QB: The walk-on redshirted and recently transferred to Oregon State.
Raheem Falkins, WR: Played in seven games, but did not have a reception.
Derrick Henry, RB: Started slow, but was second on the depth chart at the Sugar Bowl. Finished with 382 rushing yards on 35 carries to average 10.9 per carry, and took his only reception for a 61-yard touchdown.
Brandon Hill, OL: Redshirted.
O.J. Howard, TE: Played in 13 games, with five starts. Had 14 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
Parker McLeod, QB: Redshirted.
Jai Miller, S: The walk-on/former professional baseball player got into five games as a reserve, but had no tackles.

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