There has been some debate in the past about how big of an advantage a player can gain from finishing high school a semester early and enrolling in college for the spring semester ahead of his first fall instead of finishing out his senior year of high school.
Entering the fall for the Hokies, Phil Patterson was talked about as the top new arrival not at the quarterback spot that could make an instant impact despite the fact that he was the only high school receiver to not arrive in the spring. Meanwhile, many saw Josh Jackson as someone with upside in the long run but no one believed that the newcomer from Michigan could move ahead of Dwayne Lawson on the depth chart.
However, the advantage of arriving in the spring showed and opened the door for one freshman to climb the depth chart sooner-than-expected and caused another one to be behind the eight ball.
Phil Patterson seems to be the most likely freshman wide receiver to be redshirted now as neither Justin Fuente nor Isaiah Ford mentioned Patterson specifically as a young receiver standing out while Fuente and Ford both mentioned Divine Deablo and Eric Kumah in addition to Ford mentioning Sam Denmark.
Fuente said backup WRs have come along but still have ways to go. Complimented Bradshaw, Murphy, Kumah, Carroll and Diablo. #Hokies
— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) August 14, 2016
Now could it be that Patterson isn’t as good as most people expected him to be? That could absolutely be the case as he is a raw route runner that played on both sides of the ball in high school. While that could be a small part of the case, the larger reason is likely the fact that Patterson did not get the valuable time in practice and in the classroom to be coached up by Justin Fuente and his staff, learn the playbook, and get to have a top collegiate strength and conditioning staff to work with.
Divine Deablo arrived early and has continued to build on a spring in which he seemed to become the top backup receiver behind Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips. Meanwhile, Eric Kumah dealt with injuries throughout the spring that kept him out of the Spring Game but despite that, Kumah is already one of the standout backup receivers of the fall and that has to be due in part to how he enrolled in the spring.
With the Liberty game still more than two weeks away, there is still time for Patterson to climb the wide receiver depth chart but you have to wonder if Patterson might be farther up the depth chart and not headed for a likely redshirt if he would have arrived this spring.
One position that has had most players choosing to enroll in the spring in recent years is the quarterbacks spot where QBs are looking to get on campus sooner to learn the playbook and put themselves in position to possibly compete for a starting job in some cases. While Jackson wasn’t going to be in contention for the starting job, he did make a move on the depth chart that has changed the future of the quarterback position for the Hokies.
Jackson was able to learn the playbook this spring and get comfortable in the offense which showed as he was arguably the best quarterback in the Spring Game, leading the Hokies’ offense on a touchdown drive. Jackson developed as a quarterback some this spring and not only put pressure on Dwayne Lawson but moved ahead of him.
Jackson was able to maintain that spot ahead of him and after Lawson opened the fall practicing with the fourth team offense, the Floridian chose to transfer likely due in part to how Jackson had moved ahead of him, mostly closing the door on being a starting QB for the Hokies in the future.
Jackson’s strong spring has made him the quarterback of the future after the graduations of Brenden Motley and Jerod Evans. Without that, Lawson may still be a Hokie and the third-string QB while Jackson would almost certainly be fourth on the depth chart given that Lawson also would not have decided to transfer.
Enrolling early has proven time and time again to allow freshmen to climb the depth chart and gain early playing time over freshmen who arrive in the summer. Once again, the early enrollment advantage has proven to be true.