Early enrollees paid big dividends for the Hurricanes last season, with Shaquille Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud becoming comfortable in the system and seizing starting jobs by the opener.
UM hopes that a bunch of this year’s crop of 10 early enrollees – twice as many as last year – will make a strong case for playing time when spring practice opens Tuesday. An early look at the six on offense. (Please click here for the four on defense.)
• Quarterback Cade Weldon: He has every bit as much a chance as Malik Rosier, Evan Shirreffs and Jack Allison to win the starting job, with N’Kosi Perry joining the battle this summer.
“With Brad Kaaya leaving early, it was almost a must for me to come early to have a chance to be the starter,” he said. “We all make jokes about what we think is going to happen. I can make athletic plays outside the pocket. I am not crazy athletic, but I can run for a first down. Just [want to] put myself in the best position for a starting job.”
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UM quarterbacks coach Jon Richt said Weldon was underrated by a lot of colleges because a knee injury sidelined him during his junior year. “He’s built to play now,” Richt said, which is very telling. “Big, physical kid. This past year, averaged 300 yards passing a game and rushed for close to 500. He can do a lot both throwing and running.”
• Receiver Deejay Dallas: Though UM will be deep at receiver once three more freshmen arrive this summer, he’s too good to keep on the bench.
“The kid went 200 yards to run 60 in a clip I saw,” receivers coach Ron Dugans said. “He does the things you want a receiver to do after he catches the ball. He makes people miss. He scores touchdowns.”
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said “Deejay is electric with the ball in his hands, but has type of ball skills that would project him to be excellent in the secondary as well.” For now, though, the plan is receiver only, with cornerback not ruled out for the future.
This should tell you about Dallas’ hunger: He texted Dugans before he signed and said: “Make me great. Don’t let me slack.”
Dallas’ goal? “I want to be utilized as much as I can. [Need] to develop my body, become a student of the game, learn the plays, both offense and defense, and come into spring camp with a professional mentality. On offense, I play like Devin Hester, but there's a certain level of talent you have to get to [to reach Hester’s level]. Overall, I see myself as a Randall Cobb type because he played cornerback, quarterback, receiver.
“Growing up, I watched Jacory Harris and those guys. I admired the U a lot. I always wanted to play here. The love for the U has always been there.”
• Offensive linemen Navaughn Donaldson and Zach Dykstra: Though UM is deep at tackle (Trevor Darling, KC McDermott, Sunny Odogwu, Tyree St. Louis and LSU transfer George Brown), Donaldson figures to get a chance to play early because he’s an elite talent.
“He’s a massive human being,” offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said. “Very athletic for being that big. Very physical. He's going to be a great addition for us.”
Said offensive line coach Stacy Searels: “A guy that big that can run that well, I can't wait to coach him. I'm glad he got here midyear to start working with [strength coach] Gus Felder.”
Dykstra could be brought along slowly at guard but will play if he impresses. “Zach is very strong player, more of an interior player and from a land where big men are bred in the Midwest,” Brown said. Getting him from Iowa “shows what we can do from a nationwide brand.”
• Tight end Brian Polendey: Also has a chance to play early because the battle behind Chris Herndon is wide open among Polendey, Michael Irvin Jr. and Jovani Haskins.
“A very physical kid; a tenacious blocker,” tight ends coach Todd Hartley said of Polendey. “Actually very well polished in what he does at the point of attack. Nowadays you don’t see a lot of kids like him.
“He’s polished. He’s extremely intelligent, can pick up on the playbook really fast. He’s a tireless worker. Just works his butt off. Reports from the weight room have been positive. He’s going to be an asset from a physical standpoint.”
Polendey said he didn’t start playing football until eighth grade.
He was a baseball and basketball player growing up. “Football is something my parents never let me do. We moved so much that my mom wanted me to make friends so she put me in football and it worked out.
“I get a lot of compliments for my blocking and my high school was run oriented. I am not afraid to put my face mask in somebody else's face mask. I'm not [going to] back down from anybody. That's one of my greatest assets.”
Polendey said he wants to become “the complete tight end. As an early enrollee, I have a pretty big advantage. As a receiving tight end, I will be way above [what I was] a year ago. And my blocking will only get better.”
• Running back Robert Burns: Had only nine carries because of an ankle injury last season. But unless UM adds a grad transfer, he has a good chance to be the No. 3 back behind Mark Walton and Travis Homer.
“He’s an every down type tailback,” Brown said. “He’s a great downhill runner, but has enough speed to take it the distance: 215 pounds, 7 percent body fat.”
Please click here for my look at UM’s defensive early enrollees.