At various points of my life, I’ve heard high school graduates — friends, relatives, aspiring military personnel, etc. — utter the working-class words of, College isn’t for everyone.
At no time, however, have I heard a college-educated person say, High school isn’t for everyone.
Well, those days are changing. Especially in the world of big-time college football.
Take the case of Jake Bentley: On Wednesday, the Opelika, Ala.-based star athlete announced, via Twitter, he would forgo his final year of high-school eligibility to enroll at South Carolina and join the Gamecocks football program this summer.
The Bentley proclamation, which dominated the Wednesday sports-news cycle in the South, proffered three consensus questions with college football fans:
Why South Carolina?
Is this the beginning of the end for high school football, in terms of losing kids early to college?
The first two questions can be addressed in a tidy manner:
Bentley’s dad, Bobby Bentley, was recently hired as an assistant on Will Muschamp’s staff with the Gamecocks (running backs coach), after previously serving under Gus Malzahn at Auburn (2014-15 seasons); and commendably, Jake Bentley wanted to be close to his family for the 2016-17 school year — minus the awkwardness of transferring to a Columbia, S.C.-based high school (for one semester, really).
Plus, he already had enough Opelika High credits to reclassify his status and graduate with the Class of 2016.
“It’s been a long process getting approval from the SEC and the NCAA and South Carolina. It’s been kind of a long deal, but we got confirmation about a week ago, and everything’s good,” Jake Bentley told The State newspaper this week. “In South Carolina (preceding the move to Opelika), I took a lot of high school courses in middle school; so I was able to acquire a lot more course credits than the normal student.”
The third question, however, warrants a more layered response:
a) From what I gather, Jake Bentley turned 18 years old last November, putting him at the same age range of South Carolina’s incoming freshman class. So, “physical maturation” shouldn’t be an issue for the 6-foot-3, 219-pound passer.
b) It stands to reason: If Bobby Bentley had remained with Auburn in the present, son Jake would have completed his senior football campaign with the Opelika High Bulldogs, before attaining “early enrollee” status with the college of his choosing.
c) South Carolina should feel lucky that it (presumably) has a scholarship available for the 2016-17 school year. Otherwise, it might have been weird for Jake Bentley, previously ranked No. 6 among pro-style QBs for the Class of 2017 (source: 247Sports.com), to compete as a freshman walk-on.
d) The trend of elite-level high school quarterbacks enrolling early in college — typically around the Christmas holiday of their senior year — isn’t some pedestrian fad. But for running backs, linebackers, offensive/defensive tackles and cornerbacks, there isn’t a dire need to bolt high school long before prom night.
In fact, that required athletic versatility for winter/spring sports like basketball, baseball and track/field can only help prepare these kids for the rigors of college football — barring major injury, of course.
e) It’s natural for once-in-a-generation prep superstars to get bored with their competition on Friday nights during the fall. As Exhibit A, look at the grainy, black-and-white footage of Marcus Dupree in the amazing “30 For 30” documentary, The Best There Never Was.
That said, these prep legends still want to leave their mark with their respective towns — in the form of establishing never-to-be-broken individual records and meeting team goals, like claiming regional and state championships.
As such, the nationwide motivation for skipping a senior year altogether is likely minimal (if nonexistent with non-quarterbacks).
f) Back in 2003, Louisiana prep standout John David Booty apparently became the first QB prospect in American scholastic history to forgo his entire senior campaign, as a means of joining the college-football ranks early. (Tennis and soccer prodigies tend to skip college and go directly to the pros.)
And regarding his career at Southern California (2003, 2005-07), which included an early apprenticeship under Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Matt Leinart, Booty amassed 6,125 yards passing and 57 total touchdowns — including 52 scores over his final two collegiate seasons.
(For what it’s worth, Booty never attempted a single regular-season pass at the NFL level.)
g) Jake Bentley may be 18 years old and the prodigal son of a South Carolina assistant coach, but let’s have perspective here:
Unless the kid stands head and shoulders above the other Gamecocks quarterbacks in fall camp — namely Perry Orth (last year’s starter; broken collarbone in spring camp), Lorenzo Nunez, Brandon McIlwain (potential star at college level), Michael Scarnecchia, Connor Mitch — Bentley will undoubtedly be redshirted for the 2016 season.
In other words, it’s one thing for Muschamp to creatively land a highly touted recruit before other schools could make one grand final pitch (pre-National Signing Day). But it’s another for him to set the precedent of starting quarterbacks who, just a few weeks ago, were ostensibly six months away from their final high school homecoming dance.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.