Last week 11 teenagers enrolled at Penn State University half a school year before most of their classmates graduated high school.
This would be strange except in the hyper-accelerated, overdrive world of college football, in which enrolling a semester early has become a fairly standard way of jump-starting a career.
Is 11 a lot?
Not really. James Franklin signed 27 recruits Dec. 20, the first day of the NCAA early signing period for 2020. The Toledo Blade reported last week that 101 Big Ten recruits are enrolling early, or a little more than seven per school, but most conference schools didn’t sign as many overall as Penn State did.
Of Ohio State’s 24 signees, 14 are enrolling early. Sixteen of Clemson’s 23 are.
Since bowl season generally falls in a vacation period between semesters, early enrollees were allowed to practice with their college teams right away, in preparation for bowl games.
Many of Clemson’s early enrollees, for example, were part of the scout team that helped the Tigers get ready for tonight’s national championship game.
Penn State doesn’t seem quite as all-in.
"I think the reality is it's not something we promote," Franklin said at a press conference Dec. 20.
"I think a lot of schools now, from what I'm being told from high school coaches, they're really pushing it. In some cases, they're not going to take a guy unless he's a mid-semester grad.
“That's not really the case with us. I'm a big believer that, in some situations, it's ideal, but it's a major transition. You go from being a high school student to a college student within three days.’’
Penn State’s early enrollees are taking part in winter conditioning now. They will be part of spring practice in March. Obviously, it’s a big advantage for quarterbacks, because of the jump-start in learning the offense, and offensive linemen, who usually need extra development physically and in terms of technique.
At Penn State’s level, every scholarship player enters college believing it’s a way station en route to the NFL. Getting ahead of the game academically and athletically obviously helps.
“There's some advantages, especially for a mature young man and a guy who's a really strong student,’’ Franklin said.
“It will be great for spring ball, it will be great for the winter workouts, it will be great for some of the competitive things. It does help.’’
How much will it help Penn State on the field this fall?
It’s hard to see huge impact from here, although things change fast when recruits start competing with established college players.
Penn State’s two top-ranked 2020 recruits are Virginia LB Curtis Jacobs and Canadian TE Theo Johnson.
Neither are at a position of need this season, and Jacobs didn’t enroll early. Johnson, who didn’t decide on Penn State (over Alabama, Georgia and Michigan) until late in the process, has enormous potential. If there are injuries among the group of Pat Freiermuth, Zack Kuntz and Brenton Strange, he could play early.
The recruits who appear to add short-term value to the roster, though, are Detroit-area S Enzo Jennings and Virginia WR Keandre Lambert.
Both enrolled early. Both are four-star prospects with elite offers. Both need to add bulk and strength; Jennings is 6-1, 185, Lambert 6-1, 176.
Both, presumably, are banging out Olympic lifts or pounding protein shakes as we speak.
The Blue-White game, after all, is just 95 days away.