Arkansas’ football program may have arrived late to the “Early” party, but it looks like head coach Bobby Petrino and the Razorbacks are now full speed ahead with the trend.
Five prospects – all coveted additions to next year’s squad – enrolled at the University of Arkansas earlier this week and a sixth is scheduled to be here in February.
That means there will be six new players to go through the 15 spring practices – something that helps both the prospect and the team out and has Springdale Har-Ber’s Brey Cook excited.
“The biggest thing according to all the players at the colleges I went to visit was just getting used to classes and getting used to the work level expected from a college player,” Cook said. “This gives me a chance to work on that and be able to succeed in the spring semester on and off the field.”
Cook (6-7, 310) and fellow offensive lineman Jason Peacock (6-5, 335 – and due in Feb.), wideouts Quinta Funderburk (6-3, 210) and Marquel Wade (5-11, 180), defensive tackle Robert Thomas (6-3, 325) and middle linebacker Tyler Gilbert (6-3, 245) are all expected to contribute right away.
“I can tell you a staff gets excited about getting kids in here early that can help right away,” Arkansas recruiting coordinator Tim Horton said. “It is definitely becoming a trend.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney compares it to having redshirt freshmen by the time the games start in the fall.
"Basically, when you get guys like that, it's like they're already a redshirt freshman," Swinney told ESPN. "They have been through that semester like a redshirt would, they have been through a spring just like a redshirt would and been through a summer just like a redshirt would."
It has been a common practice for several seasons at other SEC programs with two of the more prominent ones having led their teams to national titles - quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Florida and Cam Newton of Auburn.
In fact, according to ESPN, four of the nation’s top six “early enrollee” classes in 2010 were top-ranked Georgia, South Carolina (third), Florida (fourth) and LSU (sixth).
As for 2011, Alabama’s eight early enrollees leads the pack while Florida has added seven, Tennessee and Arkansas six (counting Peacock), Mississippi State and South Carolina four, LSU three and Georgia two.
Under former coach Urban Meyer, Florida was the forerunner in the SEC at getting kids on campus and in classes early.
During 2004-2008, the Gators brought in 22 players early, 12 playing their first season, six of starting just months after arriving.
In its 2009 national championship game against Oklahoma, eight of the Gators’ 22 starters had enrolled early – and even kicker Caleb Sturgis got there in January.
Georgia had 14 during that time, including quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Tennessee brought in seven, South Carolina six, Mississippi State two, Kentucky and Arkansas one each – under the former staff - while Ole Miss and Vanderbilt didn’t have any.
The fact that Arkansas only had one – Reggie Fish - isn’t surprising when you consider this quote from the previous Razorback coach.
"I don't really try to push it," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt told ESPN. "I'm not worried about how many (high school players) we can get in here in January. I think summer is early enough. So we actually prefer they finish their senior year."
The current staff – which will have about 10 2011 prospects in Fayetteville this weekend - sees things differently when it comes to getting a jump with the early enrollees.
“There is just no negative to it,” Horton said. “We think it is going to be a great benefit.”