There are several fresh faces on the practice field this spring in Athens as Georgia has welcomed a whopping 14 early enrollees to Kirby Smart’s program this offseason. In addition to the high volume of early enrollees new to Georgia’s roster, the list of new Bulldogs features an incredible infusion of quality talent to the team.
The list includes defensive end Nolan Smith (nation’s No. 1 high school prospect), linebacker Nakobe Dean (the No. 2 inside linebacker), offensive lineman Clay Webb (Alabama’s No. 1 overall prospect), defensive back Tyrique Stevenson (the nation’s No. 3 cornerback), defensive back Lewis Cine (the No. 3 safety), linebacker Rian Davis (the No. 5 outside linebacker), linebacker Trezmen Marshall (the No. 7 inside linebacker), defensive end Jermaine Johnson (the nation’s No. 1 JUCO recruit), offensive lineman Warren McClendon (the No. 20 offensive tackle), Ryland Goede (the No. 7 tight end), defensive back DJ Daniel (nation’s No. 2 JUCO defensive back), Dwan Mathis (the No. 11 quarterback), defensive lineman Tramel Walthour (No. 6 JUCO defensive tackle) and Stetson Bennett (the No. 6 JUCO quarterback).
Two Georgia players with first-hand knowledge of the value of enrolling early in Athens recently spoke to the media about what they have seen from some of the team’s newest additions during spring camp.
“They’re definitely finding their ways,” junior defensive back Richard LeCounte said when asked about UGA’s early enrollees. “Those guys are so talented. They’re like sponges on everything the coaches are saying. They remind me of me when I came in in ’16, just trying to get everything that they can get out of spring and learning the playbooks. Those guys have definitely progressed a lot on the field and have a chance of helping us in the fall.”
Ben Cleveland also enrolled early in Athens back in 2016 and when asked about how valuable it is to leave high school early to get a jump start on college life, the Peach State native shared these thoughts.
“It’s huge,” Cleveland said. “They don’t understand it yet. I didn’t understand it either when I first got here. They’ll understand when they’re in their junior or senior season. The impact that this semester has on them is going to be huge, just getting ahead of the game and staying ahead of the game to make those leaps that might take a regular enrollee a little longer to make because they don’t have the extra help those new guys have right now.”
What’s really interesting about these comments is the fact that both LeCounte and Cleveland acknowledge how much early enrolling can help but based on their experiences in Athens, neither Bulldog played a huge role for the team during their first fall on campus. While they both played extensively as freshmen, they weren’t immediate starters for the Bulldogs. Getting on campus early and absorbing the playbook, campus lifestyle and the expectations for practice appears to have aided their development more as their careers in Athens have played out.
That’s not something most people think of when it comes to early enrolling, most assume it serves to help the most in Year 1, but as LeCounte and Cleveland can attest to, arriving early in college pays off years down the line.
*all listed recruiting rankings come via 247Sports Composite Rankings