But judging from the success rate of their predecessors, the quintet has a strong chance, either athletically, academically, or in both pursuits, to succeed in their next four or five years at Notre Dame.
They're the 2010 "Early Enrollees," a practice that began in 2006 with Chris Stewart, James Aldridge, and George West, and has peaked over the last two January's with two sets of five Brian Kelly recruits arriving on campus ahead of their future freshmen classmates.
That arrival is intended to offer a leg up – athletically, socially, and in the classroom. But it's a sink or swim proposition as their 16 predecessors can attest.
Success on and away from the gridiron2007 January enrollee Jimmy Clausen enjoyed the most statistical success between lines, setting program records en route to a second-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Graduated wide receiver George West made the first on-field impact among the school's semester enrollees, scoring a touchdown the first time he touched the pigskin in a collegiate game – an 11-yard end around inside the House that Rockne Built to begin a route of 2006 September rout of Purdue.
Academically, it would tough to beat former Law Student and three-year offensive line starter Chris Stewart, though that career is on hold as Stewart believes an NFL career beckons. Of course, classmate James Aldridge could give him a run for his money, at least in terms of varied academic pursuits.
And this year's squad will enjoy the leadership of eight former semester enrollees, with defensive stalwart Gary Gray and 2010 season-saver Tommy Rees the most well-known of the group. Of course, sophomore Tai-ler Jones remains the most precocious of the collection – unofficially earning a starting role no less than two weeks into his first spring practice session, then making good on that promise with a Game One start last September vs. Purdue, the first for a true freshman wide receiver at the program since Milt Jackson started the season opener of 1982.
Jones noted last spring that early enrollment, while no small task, was well worth the risk.
"The most important advantage has been getting adapted to the academic aspect of college, especially at Notre Dame where the academics are tops in the nation," Jones said last spring. "Getting a semester ahead (is key) whereas when I come into football season next fall, I'll already have some of the credits that the freshmen (need)."
One year later, Jones has as many receiving touchdowns (3) as any active member of the Notre Dame team. Without a certain suspended star in tow, Jones ranks as the most seasoned starter of a thin wide receiver corps. The fact that it's his third practice "season" rather than his second is not lost on the undersized competitor.
Jones has starting experience at two of three receiver positions (X and slot) and is well-versed in the third.
"It helps because our offense is concepts and playing each (position) helps me learn the concepts," he said following a recent practice. "We're moving around a lot more this spring than last spring. There are a lot of more formations where I'm moving inside and Theo is moving (to) single receiver. (Robby) Toma too. It's shifting more this year than last year."
As for his advice for this season's EE's?
"I try to talk to them about how to do their work or use Adam Sargent in Academic Services because that helped me a lot," Jones noted.
Worlds ApartExtensive film study. Opponents 4-5 years your elder. Opponents (much) bigger, (much) stronger, and faster. Shockingly challenging classes. South Bend weather (and it was miserable upon arrival and 90 percent of the days since). And the added reality that all of the above is unavoidable.
There aren't many life experiences a 17-year old can draw upon when he hits Notre Dame's campus during what should be his final high school semester. He can brace for a daily academic and athletic grind and for 8,000 students of which he may share little common ground, but there's no manual to better prepare him for the challenge.
There are, however, 60-plus accepting teammates.
"The team is great," said Ishaq Williams. "As soon as we came if felt like we were part of the family. No hazing, no nonsense. It felt like we were automatically part of the team."
Williams' unofficial mentor is also the leader at his future position, CAT linebacker Darius Fleming.
"He's been a great help, like a bigger brother," Williams said. "He tells me all the plays, tells me what to I have to do. And he asks me questions so I can understand better."
Williams' crash course at the challenging CAT position ranks among the toughest tasks faced by the 2011 EE's. Then again, at least he's not wearing a camera on his head to track every waking glance.
"I had it on one time," said Everett Golson of the 2011 practice addition known as helmet-cam. "It helped, but I do get chewed out for (mistakes because of it). But it's a neat technology."
Golson, like Tommy Rees last spring, has endured trial-by-fire under center during his first college practices. His trio of competitors at the position knows more, have seen more, and have endured more through previous program experience.
But Golson is closing that gap. Quickly.
"He's always in the play room," said sophomore QB Andrew Hendrix of Golson. "That's a man working hard to get where he needs to be. It's inspiring to all of us. The man has a cannon and he obviously has some wheels. He's got a lot of talent and he's working hard to turn it into something."
Helping him toward that goal is the lead candidate for a 2011 starting spot, senior Dayne Crist. That altruistic act at first surprised Golson, a player technically trying to take the signal-caller's job in either 2011, 2012, or both.
"That's the funny thing; I asked him about that," Golson said of receiving sage advice from his competitor. "You don't see that too much, but Dayne's a real good guy and has a good heart. He said that somebody did it for him, so he's doing it for us. That's the thing about him. He pays respect to others before and those coming up."
Golson offered that the quartet of quarterbacks are competitors, but not necessarily competing.
"The quarterback group as a whole doesn't look at it as a competition. We're competing, but helping each other at the same time and we're working at the common goal of winning a national championship. So whoever's best for the job (will win)."
They've all been thereAlso receiving a helping hand is the ballyhooed Lynch, both from his closest competitor for a key backup defensive end role and the unit's top dog.
"Prince Shembo's helping me. Manti (Te'o). Everybody's giving me help. Kona (Schwenke), they're all helping me," Lynch said.
"There's a transition," Lynch continued of his assimilation to the college game. "The linemen are a lot bigger so I have to bring more strength and speed off the ball. Academically it's a lot harder than I thought, but I work hard and do what I can do.
"I'm glad I came in to play spring ball, get the feel for upperclassmen linemen," he continued. "It's a big jump compared to (arriving in the summer).
Williams conquers with his classmate that the adjustment isn't easy.
"I'm still concerned about my progress though I'm use to the environment," Williams admitted. "I'm still concerned about how I'll end up. Time management is an adjustment, the speed of everything is way different."
Pressed for his most difficult class to date, Williams didn't hesitate.
While the study of humankind serves as Williams' most vexing current problem, for Lynch, that moment has already occurred – between the lines.
"I've been put on my butt a few times," he laughed.
At least he'll be better prepared for that reality next fall.
Note: We'll have more on semester freshmen Brad Carrico and Kyle Brindza in a future column.