Ten freshmen are off to an early start in their Michigan football careers as mid-year enrollees.
Enrolling early doesn’t guarantee those players will see the field quicker than then recruits who enroll in the summer, but it does give them a leg up.
With winter workouts beginning last month, freshmen can benefit from college-level training heading into spring practices. They also get the chance to learn the systems and gel with new teammates. There’s an educational component too as recruits have more time to adapt to college classes before the season.
Last season, five of Michigan’s eight early enrollees saw the field as freshman. One of the eight, defensive end Aaron Lewis, transferred before the season, and another, defensive lineman Braiden McGregor, was injured all year.
While the truncated 2020 season was an outlier because of the NCAA’s eligibility blanket waiver, a few Wolverines early enrollees earned notable roles as true freshmen. Running back Blake Corum had 150 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, while offensive lineman Zak Zinter played in all six games and started four at right guard. Meanwhile, safety Makari Paige played more snaps than any other freshman on the defensive side of the ball.
With that said, here are five early enrollees in the 2021 class who can benefit the most.
Five-star quarterback J.J. McCarthy
Head coach Jim Harbaugh has been reluctant to give a young quarterback the reins to the offense early in their careers, but McCarthy might just have the talent and moxie to warrant a rapid rise on the depth chart.
The No. 24 overall prospect and No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class, per 247Sports’ Composite rankings, reached three straight state finals with Nazareth Academy in Illinois before transferring to powerhouse Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy for his senior season. All he did was throw for 1,392 yards and 16 touchdowns to zero touchdowns for the top-ranked team in the country.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pounder possesses all the necessary traits to excel at the college level but will be in competition with Joe Milton and Cade McNamara. Learning and commanding a new offense can be challenging for freshman quarterbacks, but enrolling early gives McCarthy a few extra months to absorb the new system.
“J.J. is a pretty easy one with the quarterback situation right now,” The Michigan Insider’s Brice Marich told MLive. “Who knows what’s going to happen this offseason if guys stay, if they don’t. And so for J.J, he can come in, he can learn the offense, he can get stronger, get bigger, he can get acclimated towards the college life, being in the dorms taking classes, going to Schembechler Hall, going through everything that you want to experience.”
Four-star linebacker Junior Colson
Physically, Colson is ready to face college competition right away. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder has the versatility to rush the passer, stuff the run and drop back in coverage. While the hybrid safety-linebacker “viper” position that Colson was recruited to play likely won’t be as prevalent in new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s defense, Michigan should still be able to find a spot for him early on. Middle linebacker Cameron McGrone declared early for the NFL draft, and there isn’t much depth behind him. The Wolverines are young and experienced at the position, and, like Colson, the rest of the linebackers also will be learning a new system. Colson, from Ravenwood High in Brentwood, Tennessee, is Michigan’s highest-ranked defensive recruit at No. 89 overall.
“He’s physically ready to play,” Marich said. “For him, it’s a matter of learning the system, learning the coaches and just getting out there. I think with what they have coming back at linebacker, that’s kind of a need. They need guys there, and Junior is more than capable of making an impact day one.”
Four-star running back Donovan Edwards
Edwards went on a tear during the postseason to lead West Bloomfield to a state title, showing why he is ranked as the No. 41 overall prospect in 2021. He ended his high school career on a high note with 257 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries in the state championship and was named Michigan’s Mr. Football.
Edwards is a complete back who can be utilized in myriad ways in Josh Gattis’ offense. He’s a more physical runner than sophomore Blake Corum but is just as explosive. The Wolverines’ running back room will still be crowded in 2021, but with Zach Charbonnet and Christian Turner transferring, there will be an opportunity for Edwards to carve out a role right away. Expect Hassan Haskins, Corum and Edwards to handle a bulk of the load next season.
Four-star receiver Cristian Dixon
The California product was one of two early enrollees who had his senior season postponed because of COVID-19. Being able to train at the college level and participate in spring practice should be beneficial for the No. 226 prospect in 2021, who hasn’t played a game in over a year. Also, Gattis hasn’t been afraid to put true freshman receivers on the field. A.J. Henning and Roman Wilson each saw snaps in 2020, while Giles Jackson, Cornelius Johnson and Mike Sainristil all played in 2019.
Four-star center Raheem Anderson
Offensive lineman usually take longer to develop, but the Wolverines had to rely heavily on underclassmen last season. They might have to do the same in 2021. Andrew Vastardis started the year at center, but he was a fifth-year senior and it’s unclear if he will return. His backup, Zach Carpenter, transferred in the offseason, leaving zero college experience on the roster in the middle.
Michigan signed two centers this cycle, but Anderson is likely the most college-ready. He was a four-year starter and three-year starter at Detroit Cass Tech and is listed at 6-foot-3, 298 pounds. He also has experience at guard. With so many questions along the line heading into next season, Anderson, the No. 208 overall prospect, could find himself on the two-deep right away with a strong spring.
The other freshmen mid-year enrollees are: four-star offensive tackle Giovanni El-Haid, four-star center Greg Crippen, three-star receiver Andrel Anthony, three-star offensive tackle Tristan Bounds and three-star running back Tavierre Dunlap.
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— to www.mlive.com