Early Returns

How have Notre Dame's 24 early enrollees fared at the University since the program began the practice in January 2006? We examine the practice in this, Part I of a two-part series, later reviewing the end (or pending) results of each early entrant's career, both in the classroom and on the playing field.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's fourth collection of recruits began their assimilation to the Notre Dame football program this week. But for five of the 23 newly-minted Golden Domers, each of whom enrolled at the University in January, taxing workouts with the varsity is nothing new thanks to a semester advantage, both in the classroom and on the practice field.

This year's early entry quintet resides entirely on the offensive side of scrimmage: offensive tackle Steven Elmer, tight end Mike Heuerman, wide receivers James Onwualu and Corey Robinson, and quarterback Malik Zaire. The group ties the 2011 collection as the most semester enrollees at Notre Dame since the program began accepting early entrants in 2006.

"I don't think that I've had an internal memo that's capped it," said Kelly of working with five early enrollees, "But it's still has to be a kid that fits and has the ability to graduate early (from high school). A lot of those things have to come together. Having said that, as a rule I would like to continue the mid-year enrollees because it's our way of getting a more mature player.

"We continue to show that these guys can continue to do the work and are going to continue to be successful, I think we've had a good campaign of that. I think it's going to be one as long as we present good solid candidates to the University, I think we're going to continue have success down that line."

Success stories such as current senior Tommy Rees, ex-triggerman and program record-setter Jimmy Clausen, and former nose guard Sean Cwynar, who not only started and/or contributed heavily to the cause between the lines, but also earned two degrees in his four years at the school. (After graduating in three years thanks partly to his initial semester-in-advance, Cwynar earned his MBA in an accelerated one-year program.)

Multiple early entrants have earned a leg up on the field as a result of a semester of winter workouts and subsequent 15-practice spring session prior to their classmates' summer arrival. Armando Allen and Jimmy Clausen (2007), Trevor Robinson (2008), T.J. Jones and Tommy Rees (2009), and Kyle Brindza and Aaron Lynch (2011) all earned starts as true freshmen. Others such as George West (2006), Zeke Motta (2009), and Sheldon Day (last season) played extensively, and in Day's case, a crucial role.

"Not only do they get the football, they get (strength and conditioning coach) Paul Longo," said Kelly this spring. "They get the weight room. They get all of that training which is really probably the separator for those guys. Like for Corey Robinson. For us to see what Corey can do right now changes everything in our own minds. Now he's got to move in with coach Longo. I think that helps us getting a glimpse in and know what we need to do physically to get them there too."

There's also a flip side. Not including the newest quintet, of the program's 24 early enrollees to date, five transferred and at least five players (not exclusive to said transfers) were either expelled or left the University due to academic issues, including expected 2013 starting quarterback Everett Golson.

Of Kelly's 13 early enrollees (again, not including the 2013 quintet), four have transferred: Spencer Boyd, Aaron Lynch, Tee Shepard, and Gunner Kiel, with Golson's status pending. Moreover, offensive guard Brad Carrico (medical hardship/ankle) is no longer part of the program but remains at the University.

But beneficiaries such as Rees and Motta point to their early assimilation as an impetus. Current junior linebacker Ishaq Williams noted this spring -- his third rather than second with the program thanks to early enrollment -- that though it was a struggle for him as a semester enrollee, the added time in the program has proved beneficial entering what is expected to be a breakout season for the former five-star.

"Its a process getting more comfortable," Williams said. "When I got here (January 2011), I didn't know what I was doing. It was a new environment. The next year I knew the people better, knew the terrain better, my teammates, and as you go on in they system you get more comfortable with it and how you can help more."

Asked if he felt he had it "all figured out," upon arrival, Williams offered, "No, I don't lie to myself. I knew I didn't know what I was doing and wasn't comfortable, so I had to work on that."

Williams is one of 13 current players that enrolled early.

Note: Click here for a player-by-player review of each of Notre Dame's 29 early entrants to date.

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