UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- More than a third of Penn State's 2010 recruiting class is getting a head start on their academic and football careers.
Seven of the 19 players who made verbal commitments graduated early from high school and enrolled yesterday for the start of the spring semester.
The newest group of Nittany Lions arrived more than three weeks ahead of the Feb. 3 national signing day, when the majority of the nation's Division I-A recruits formalize their decisions with binding letters of intent.
The seven early enrollees are the Lions' highest total -- they had four a year ago -- and their recruiting class is ranked No. 5 nationally.
"We have a lot of new kids walking around on campus with maps," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said, jokingly.
Among the freshmen prospects who started classes yesterday were three Pennsylvania high school players -- quarterback Paul Jones (Sto-Rox High School), linebacker Dakota Royer (Manheim Central) and defensive end Kyle Baublitz (Central York) -- and two from Connecticut -- outside linebacker Khairi Fortt (Stamford) and running back Silas Redd (King & Low-Heywood Thomas).
Rounding out the group are tight end Kevin Haplea from New Jersey (North Hunterdon) and defensive tackle Evan Hailes from New York (Oscar F. Smith).
Penn State coach Joe Paterno is not particularly fond of the growing trend toward early enrollees. No. 1 Alabama, which plays the Lions Sept. 11 in Tuscaloosa, is expected to have 11.
"I don't like it," Paterno said. "Life is very short and high school should be a great remembrance, with your friends and the whole bit. When you take a kid out of high school before his senior prom, graduation with his buddies, the kids he started with, the town he lives in, I don't know that we're doing him a favor.
"But, unfortunately, that's the way recruiting has gone these days. So much is being done early."
Penn State has had a handful of early entrants in the past decade who have contributed as true freshmen, including Calvin Lowry, Dan Connor, Gateway's Justin King and Derrick Williams, who was the nation's No. 1 recruit.
Of the four freshmen who enrolled early last season, only two made it onto the field in 2009 -- backup quarterback Kevin Newsome (66 yards passing, 95 yards rushing and two touchdowns) and linebacker Gerald Hodges (three tackles). Two others, kicker Anthony Fera and center Ty Howle, redshirted.
Newsome is expected to compete for the starting job this fall with Jones and Robert Bolden (St. Mary Prep, Orchard Lake, Mich.) and former walk-on Matt McGloin. Jones is the only early enrollee among the five WPIAL players recruited by Bradley for 2010.
"We don't encourage the kids to do it, but you're kind of trapped if they want to enroll early," Bradley said. "What are you going to say, `No?' Personally, I would like to see them make the natural progression from high school to college, where they finish it out and then come here.
"I'm not sure we're doing the right thing for some of these players academically when they come in at mid-year. But I do think, for most of them, there is some benefit from a football standpoint."
Penn State's seven early enrollees will be able to participate in winter workouts and 15 spring practices, which conclude April 24 with the annual Blue-White game at Beaver Stadium.
"People talk about these kids missing the prom and their graduation, but all of them are within driving distance, so it's not like they can't go home for some functions," said Mark Brennan, editor of FightOnState.com, a Web site devoted to Penn State news and recruiting. "The one negative I see is that the kids who enroll early can't play in the Big 33 game, which is a blow for some of them.
"But going through spring practice is the key for a lot of these guys who come in early and hope to get playing time in their first season."
Meanwhile, wide receiver Adrian Coxson from Maryland (Baltimore City College) initially made a verbal commitment to Penn State and is listed among their 2010 recruits. But he has been waffling on his choice since visiting Florida and Georgia and might not end up signing with the Lions next month.
For more on Penn State, read Ron Musselman on Penn State at post-gazette.com/plus. Ron Musselman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 12, 2010 5:00 AM