For a few Cobb County football player, the end of the calendar year marks so much more than just reflection. The turning of the clock represents an entirely new beginning.
That’s what’s in store for Kell’s Quincy Mauger, Marietta’s Anthony Jennings, Walton’s Parker McLeod and Lassiter’s Eddie Printz, among others. The four seniors fulfilled their high school academic obligations a semester early, and have elected to enroll at the respective colleges they had committed to in January, forgoing the final semester of high school to get a headstart on their college careers.
The decision to leave early has several disadvantages, including not being able to finish out the year with friends, missing out on prom and not being able to attend graduation. However, leaving early for college also has several advantages as well.
“The benefit is they get to accelerate their collegiate careers in every aspect,” said Marietta coach Scott Burton, a former college assistant at the University of Richmond who saw first-hand how early enrollees benefited. “Their eligibility clock doesn’t start with spring practice, so it doesn’t hurt them and the playing time they have. A typical student-athlete may enroll in May or June and then get a redshirt, but in this case you get an extra semester of work in the classroom and on the field.
“For a lot of kids, they get ahead academically, and by staying on top of their studies, they could graduate with a master’s degree by the time their college career is over. Athletically, they get familiar with the playbook and they get to bond with the players during the offseason, which is a lot easier than during the grind in-season. It makes acclimating so much easier in a lot of ways.”
Mauger, a first-team all-county defensive back, is heading to Georgia on Jan. 2. That’s five days before the start of spring semester classes, so Mauger plans to spend as much time as he can with his family before heading off to college.
“I’ll be at UGA by myself, so I have to savor these moments with my mom and my family and my class of 2013,” said Mauger, who plans to study engineering. “Everybody’s been supportive. My mom hates the fact that I’m leaving early, but she knows it’s for the best. I’ll get a better chance to play early against the other recruits coming in, and I’ll get a jump on my academics.”
The Alabama-bound McLeod doesn’t start classes until Jan. 9, while Printz will head out to Missouri on Jan. 17, the day after Lassiter’s season-ending football banquet and five days before classes begin.
“My dad and (former Lassiter) coach (Chip) Lindsey came up with the idea that I could leave early when I was a freshman,” Printz said, “so they put me in classes that would make that happen. We had it all planned out early, and it was an idea we had been looking at for a while.”
Printz, who plans on studying sports management and business at Missouri, is excited about the opportunity.
“It’s a whole new world,” he said. “Once I get into a rhythm and learn the environment over there, I’ll be fine. It’s about getting acclimated to college, and I’m looking forward to everything about the experience.”
Jennings, who will study kinesiology at LSU, plans on taking 15 course hours during the spring semester to get ahead quickly.
Like most players who join their teams early, Jennings’ LSU coaches will plan out his schedule to maximize the time he can spend with the team and on his studies. Orientation is Jan. 14, and Jennings plans to leave for Baton Rouge on Jan. 11.
“Coach Burton brought the idea of leaving early to my attention,” Jennings said. “I was in good academic standing at Marietta to go, and I think being at LSU early will help me in the long run. It will help me to build chemistry with the guys, learn the system and the playbook and get through with some of my classes early.
“I’m OK with it. A lot of people don’t have this opportunity — just to get this new start on life and help me to become a better person.”
The scholarships for the early enrollees go into effect when they start classes, so none of them will have to pay out of pocket for books, tuition or lodging.
According to Burton, not every player is afforded the privilege of joining the team early.
“It’s different for different positions,” he said. “Linemen don’t typically do it because they usually need the year to get bigger and more prepared with their footwork anyway. That can happen once they get there. Unless, of course, the lineman is expected to be a starter in the fall, then the coach will bring them on.
“Leaving early is usually used for guys at the skill positions. There’s a lot to prepare for, so they’re given that time to grow, develop and learn.”
While the early enrollees will miss out their final high school semesters, many of them have already made arrangements to come back for special events so they don’t miss out.
Mauger will be back from Athens for prom and graduation, and Printz made a deal with his father to fly him back for those moments as part of his early-departure decision.
Burton acknowledged that college coaches often allow the players to leave for these events as long as it doesn’t conflict with spring practices.
“Typically, these guys are more mature, and the opportunity to return home for some of the senior highlights is something you do see happen if the opportunity is there,” he said. “What these guys will miss is they don’t get the chance to wind down and reflect on their final year. The football season ends and they’re basically right back into it. They miss out on some down time. They also become a detached member of that senior group, so they’re not hanging out with their friends.
“There are pluses and minuses to leaving early, and it’s all based on the social aspect. But the benefits are just as special in the long run.”