Early additions get special delivery

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan's six early enrollees are almost a week into their first semester of college. What they left behind in terms of baseball or prom they hope to make up in early opportunities in the college classroom and on the field.

From a football perspective, linemen such as Kyle Bosch, Taco Charlton and Logan Tuley-Tillman will have an extra semester of training in the jump from high school. Tight end Jake Butt will have a full spring season of catching passes from Devin Gardner. And defensive backs Dymonte Thomas and Ross Douglas will have four extra months with Greg Mattison as they try to work themselves into a secondary that struggled near the end of the 2012 season.

And while the fruits of their labor will show soon, the process of early enrolling began several months ago when these players reached out to Michigan and declared that they would want to be midyear enrollees.

It's a complicated process. For point person Bob Lopez, Michigan's director of football operations, early enrollees were few and far between at UCLA and San Diego State, his previous two stops. But it has become a growing trend at Michigan, with three early enrollees last year and six this year.

Lopez said last year's early enrollees -- Joe Bolden, Jarrod Wilson and Kaleb Ringer -- changed his opinion of the matter.

"I used to think that it was not a good thing, not so much from our aspect but from the standpoint of the kid," Lopez said. "But if they're ready, then I think it's a really good idea."

Lopez does his best to make that good idea a good experience, knowing that the jump from high school to college is steep and throwing football into the mix could be volatile if not handled well.

First, he requires each early enrollee's high school to submit a letter certifying that the student can graduate by a specific date. This year, with early enrollees reporting on Jan. 6, Michigan required that each player graduated by the final week of December.

"We have got to know that the high school administration and district office are on board with this," Lopez said.

Once Michigan has the letter, Lopez can help early enrollees go through the next steps of registering for midyear orientation, going through NCAA paperwork, taking online placement exams and registering for classes.

As the director of football operations, Lopez knows it's necessary for him to take care of all aspects surrounding the student-athlete, and that includes helping to build a support system for each player.

For that, Lopez hand-picks an older player on the team to guide each player through his first few months. This season, former player Paul Gyarmati helped Lopez pair up players: Thomas with Courtney Avery; Charlton: Brennen Beyer; Bosch: Mike Schofield; Douglas: Blake Countess; Butt: Drew Dileo; Tuley-Tillman: Jeremy Gallon.

"We're trying to cover all the bases so that they always feel like someone is there to answer questions," Lopez said.

And usually there are plenty of questions.

Early enrolling means leaving high school a semester sooner than senior classmates and missing some of those experiences, but for players who are academically eligible, it means an extra few months of college weight training, an early start on classes and an opportunity to compete for playing time during spring football.

And about a month after these six players finish their first season of spring ball with Michigan, the rest of their 2013 class will enroll for the summer semester in late June -- none are expected to enroll for spring classes starting in early May. Those players will have time to adjust to college life before fall classes and football begin, but what these six early enrolling players will get through the next four months, Lopez knows, is invaluable both in the classroom and on the field.

"Although the summer is a good starting point," Lopez said, "that winter term that they're going to have here is a better look at what college really is."