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Seniors opt out for head start on college work

The Baltimore Sun

Navarre, a two-time state wrestling champion and talented fullback, could have understandably taken a victory lap during his final senior semester two years ago and cruised in for his diploma on the way to college.

Instead, Navarre passed up his final semester and the joys of "senioritis" at Joppatowne to immerse himself in the life of a Division I athlete, participating in spring football and classes after receiving a football scholarship to Maryland.

It's a move that Navarre, a two-year starter at defensive end in College Park, has not regretted.

"It just comes down to whether you're ready to leave high school," Navarre said. "The way I looked at it was, there was a bigger picture. What's the use of being in high school if you're ready for bigger and better things?"

Nationally, a growing number of high school athletes, mostly football players, are asking the same question. They are completing the work required for a high school diploma in January of the school year, then enrolling as full-time students at their college of choice.

Defending champion Florida, for instance, has nine members of next fall's freshman class on campus, including Joe Haden, who led Friendly High in Prince George's County to the Class 3A state championship over River Hill in December.

The decision to leave early is not limited to football players or to boys. The first widely known athlete to give up high school early for college was Cindy Parlow, a soccer player from Memphis, who graduated from high school a year early in 1995 to attend North Carolina.

Ali Moreland, a freshman on the McDaniel College women's basketball team, finished her course work at South River a year early last spring to make the leap to college.

Moreland, the seventh-leading scorer for this year's Green Terror team that advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament, said she felt she had accomplished all she wanted to at the high school level and was looking forward to a new challenge.

Moreland said she could have split her senior year between South River and community college courses. Instead, she decided to go to McDaniel, passing up a senior year in which she could have showcased her abilities in her three sports, soccer, basketball and lacrosse, for a possible Division I or II scholarship.

"I was thinking about what my senior year would be like," Moreland said. "I really wouldn't be at my high school. I would have been at the community college the majority of the time. I had achieved so much athletically as well. All my teams were successful. I had gotten what I wanted to get out of it. I just thought it was a good time [to graduate]."

In most cases, football players finish their high school work early to get a jump on getting acquainted with both the college classroom and the gridiron.

Jason Blind, who coached Denver Broncos defensive back Domonique Foxworth at Western Tech, said Foxworth decided to graduate early to go to Maryland to get himself ready for big-time football at a time of year, the spring, when things are relaxed.

"There's no pressure on them, really," said Blind, who now coaches at Colonie High in Albany, N.Y. "They're not coming in and having to learn the playbook and take classes for the first time and prepare weekly for opponents.

"The fevered pitch of the in-season is a lot more pressure than spring ball, which is an abbreviated amount of time during the spring semester. They can really indoctrinate themselves into the college life and process academics without a lot of the pressure they would have in-season."

The drawbacks are that not every teenager is emotionally ready to take such a leap, Blind said, not to mention the fact that if the college is out of state or out of immediate driving range, the high school student has less of an emotional support system at the college to soften the culture shock.

The phenomenon of high school students graduating early to come to college is a relatively new one, so new that there are no NCAA restrictions. But, Blind said, if the trend becomes overused, it could come in for regulation.

Leaving high school early can deprive high school students of important cultural and social milestones, such as going to the prom or graduation, though Navarre and Moreland were able to take part in both.

"You don't have to miss any of that," Navarre said. "But it was a little weird coming back after being in college. Going to the prom was a little different. It was all worth it."

Navarre, however, lost a chance to win a third state wrestling title, as he was no longer, technically, a high school student. That wouldn't stop him from recommending the move to anyone who could handle it.

"With that semester, I was able to get a lot stronger and get into the groove of how college is," Navarre said. "That aspect helped me out tremendously. I would say [to prospective college students], 'You're giving up some of your senior year, but there's much more to gain from going to college early.'"

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