USC landed one of the class of 2013’s top quarterback prospects when Max Browne announced last week that he would join the Trojans.
The junior from Sammamish, Wash., is working toward finishing high school in December so he can enroll at USC in January, in time to participate in spring practice a year from now and compete for an opportunity to become Matt Barkley’s successor.
Browne’s plan is a familiar one for the Trojans: Barkley and redshirt freshman quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler — who will play Saturday in USC’s annual end-of-spring scrimmage — all left high school halfway through their senior years to jump-start their college careers.
“It has been unbelievably advantageous for them,” USC quarterbacks coach Clay Helton said.
But early enrollment doesn’t necessarily result in earlier playing time.
Barkley is the poster child for the best-case scenario; he was a starter as a true freshman in 2009. However, most midyear enrollees spend a year or two learning the system and waiting their turn to make a significant impact.
In some cases, their USC careers do not play out as planned.
Tailback Dillon Baxter and receiver Kyle Prater were regarded as jewels of USC’s 2010 recruiting class. They enrolled in January amid much fanfare, but neither panned out.
Baxter was suspended twice as a freshman and was kicked off the team midway through last season. He transferred to San Diego State in January but was subsequently released from that program.
Prater, from Illinois, struggled to overcome multiple injuries and could not crack a receivers rotation that included Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Brandon Carswell. Prater redshirted in 2010 and caught only one pass in 10 games last season. He has transferred to Northwestern.
The USC experiences of Baxter and Prater have not dissuaded others from taking the leap into college as their high school classmates enjoy their final months of high school.
USC’s legacy of early enrollees dates to January 1999, when offensive lineman Jacob Rogers arrived from Oxnard High. Punter Tom Malone (2002) and fullback Brandon Hancock (2002), defensive backs Brandon and Ryan Ting (2003), tight end Fred Davis (2004) and safety Kevin Ellison (2005) were among the players who enrolled early when Pete Carroll was coach, as were safety Antwine Perez (2006), who transferred, and offensive lineman Matt Meyer (2008), whose career ended before it started because of foot problems.
Kessler, Wittek and kicker Andre Heidari finished high school in December 2010 and arrived the next month.
Coach Lane Kiffin says early enrollees benefit from the head start they get on academic work as well as the playbook.
“By the time they get to their first fall,” Kiffin said, “it’s like they’re not freshmen anymore.”
That’s what Wittek and Kessler discovered last month when they opened spring practice as veterans alongside third-year sophomore quarterback Jesse Scroggins, who has been sidelined because of a hip injury.
“You miss out on probably the easiest semester you’ll ever have in high school,” Wittek said, “but it’s all worth it in the end because of the football aspect.”
Said Kessler: “If you look at everything that’s happened so far, it’s clearly worth it.”
Heidari said that special teams coach John Baxter encouraged him to enroll last spring so he would have months to prepare for the 2011 season instead of six weeks after a late-spring high school graduation. Heidari became the starting kicker, making 15 of 17 field-goal attempts.
“It made me more experienced,” he said. “It made me more aware of what’s going on and how fast the game is.”
Linebacker Scott Starr got a similar introduction.
The former Norco High standout has been on campus for three months and is concluding five weeks of spring workouts. Starr has worked as the No. 2 middle linebacker behind Lamar Dawson.
“It’s better to come in here and get adjusted to the playbook than just to hang out in high school,” he said, adding that having a spring under his belt would give him an advantage over summer newcomers.
“I’ll be able to compete for a spot,” he said. “In fall camp we’re getting ready to play a game.”