At this time a year ago, Breiden Fehoko and Jarrett Stidham were early enrollees finding their way at Texas Tech and Baylor after graduating high school early and joining the program before signing day.
Both players had a significant impact in the fall, starting games for the Red Raiders and Bears as both programs made a bowl appearance. Fehoko, a defensive tackle, started all 13 games for Texas Tech, finishing with 19 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack. Stidham, a quarterback, stepped in for an injured Seth Russell, leading Baylor to a win over Kansas State and starting three games before an ankle injury ended his season.
As Fehoko and Stidham showed as Class of 2015 signees, an early start on a collegiate career can be invaluable. With that in mind, here are five early-enrollee freshmen from the Class of 2016 to keep an eye on in the Big 12 this spring:
QB Shane Buechele, Texas: Did the Longhorns solve their quarterback problem? Buechele is in Austin and ready to fight for a starring role in Sterlin Gilbert’s new offense.
His decision to graduate early and go through spring drills allows him to line up in the starting blocks alongside Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes in the race to become the guy who triggers Gilbert’s offense. After treading water for two straight seasons under Charlie Strong, Texas needs someone to step up and take the quarterback job. Buechele’s arrival should ramp up the competition even more.
WR Tren’Davian Dickson, Baylor: While the Bears have plenty of candidates to fill the void left by Biletnikoff Award winner Corey Coleman, Dickson will have his chance to stake a claim during the spring. The No. 198 player in the ESPN300 turned down Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas, Michigan, USC and others to enroll early at Baylor and get the chance to earn a role in the offense before the summer.
Dickson is a natural playmaker with good instincts and can be a terror in the open field, much like Coleman was for the Bears in 2015. However, as talented as Dickson is, it would be asking a lot for him to have a Coleman-type of impact immediately. Jay Lee joins Coleman as a productive playmaker on Baylor’s 2015 two-deep attack that won’t return so Dickson should see some spring opportunities to show Art and Kendal Briles he’s ready for the Big 12.
QB Austin Kendall, Oklahoma: Remember when Baylor placed its College Football Playoff hopes in the hands of a true freshman? It could happen again, this time at Oklahoma, in 2016.
After Trevor Knight headed to Texas A&M and Cody Thomas decided to focus on baseball, Kendall could find himself as Oklahoma’s backup quarterback this fall. And with Baker Mayfield’s fearless playing style, Kendall could find himself shouldering Oklahoma’s playoff hopes sooner than expected.
Fortunately for Oklahoma, Kendall was one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects in the Class of 2016. Kendall, the No. 162 player in the ESPN300, made the decision to enroll early and it will pay off -- for himself and Oklahoma -- with the uncertainty behind Mayfield. The true freshman should get plenty of reps during spring ball while getting the opportunity to mentor under one of the nation’s top signal-callers.
RB Kennedy McKoy, West Virginia: Wendall Smallwood’s departure means an opening for McKoy to make an impact during his first season in Morgantown, West Virginia. The three-star prospect from Lexington, North Carolina, wasn’t a national recruit, but neither was Smallwood, a three-star signee who led the Big 12 in rushing in 2016.
McKoy is similar to Smallwood and Charles Sims as a running back who can contribute with his hands in the passing game. West Virginia doesn’t need him to make an immediate impact with Rushel Shell and Donte Thomas-Williams already on campus, but McKoy’s versatility and decision to enroll early could help him carve a third-down role or special teams spot in the spring.
QB Skylar Thompson, Kansas State: Much like Texas, the Wildcats could use some new blood to amp up the quarterback competition. Thompson, a four-star signee, could be the quarterback of the future and enrolled early to give himself a shot to be an impact newcomer in 2016.
Kody Cook is no longer around to save the day but several quarterbacks, including Joe Hubener, could stand between Thompson’s chance to make an immediate impact. In fact, Class of 2015 signee Alex Delton will have his own say before Thompson can be crowned the quarterback of the future for the Wildcats.
Nonetheless, Thompson is a terrific talent. He has room to grow but already possesses the run-pass skills to run the K-State attack if he can handle all the aspects of being in charge of an offense in Bill Snyder’s system. Getting a jump-start with spring practice should pay off for Thompson, and Snyder expects to make a decision on adding Thompson to the quarterback competition or redshirting him after the spring.