Senior year of high school is usually a time when students allow themselves to relax, with the stress of college applications behind them. For the growing number of athletes opting to enroll early in college, their last year of high school looks very different.
Early enrollment is the process in which high school athletes complete all their high school credits by December and enroll as a first-year in college for the spring semester. Many athletes at UNC are now opting to enroll early to get a head start on classes and adjust to college life before their first season.
This January, UNC’s football program welcomed eight early enrollees: edge rusher Beau Atkinson, linebacker Sebastian Cheeks, offensive tackle Trevyon Green, jack Malaki Hamrick, quarterback Conner Harrell, running back George Pettaway, offensive tackle Zach Rice and defensive lineman Travis Shaw.
UNC football is well accustomed to early enrollees, with a program in place so that athletes participate in separate practices during January and February, before joining the rest of the team for spring ball starting in March. These practices focus on strength and conditioning, starting with the basics.
“Coming to college made me realize the stuff I was doing in high school could have hurt me, not properly squatting right, not having the right feet angles, not having my breathing down,” Shaw, who enrolled early from Grimsley High School in Greensboro, N.C., said.
Of course, playing Division I college football is quite the jump from high school, no matter how competitive the high school program is. Rice remembered his first day of practice at UNC, where everything was much more fast-paced. Despite being considered the No. 1 ranked offensive tackle in the class of 2022, Rice said he and every other first-year got a wake-up call playing against UNC's veterans.
"Spring camp, that really helped," Rice said. "I feel like we've been here for a year or so now. They definitely earned our respect in spring ball."
Despite its initial popularity largely based in football, the trend of early enrollment has expanded to other sports at UNC as well.
“I think that that was definitely one of the best decisions of my life, was to come up here early, and I couldn't have been happier,” UNC volleyball player Ava Swain said. "It was a great transition for me."