Alabama football: Crimson Tide's early enrollees get jump-start on conditioning

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerFebruary 3, 2012 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alphonse Taylor played it cool at first.

Nah, college isn’t that much different for the defensive lineman who left high school a semester early for Alabama’s spring practice schedule. School is school, right?

But Davidson High in Mobile doesn’t have a Scott Cochran. Alabama’s eternally red-lining strength and conditioning coach, Taylor and the other early enrollees said, separates the culture shift of the past month.

“Oh man, the guy’s intense. He’s intense,” a wide-eyed Taylor said, dropping the nonchalant exterior. “He does some of the craziest workouts ever. He’s very intense, but that’s what you have to expect out of one of the top programs in the nation.”

The 26-member signing class finalized Wednesday includes eight who started classes in January. Six were high school seniors, and two came from junior colleges.

None had an experience that compares to the head-first dive into an educational environment shared by 30,000 others.

T.J. Yeldon, a five-star running back who left Daphne a few months early, can list one shortcoming of his new environment: “Walking to class in the rain,” he said. “I didn’t know you had to do that.”

None of the seven who spoke to reporters Wednesday shared any regrets about arriving early. The high-schoolers still can return home for the prom and graduation, but it’s all college besides that.

Wide receiver Chris Black said he arrived as a ninth-grader planning to graduate a semester early to jump-start his college football career.

The idea first occurred to linebacker Ryan Anderson when he went from a lightly recruited high school junior to a hot prospect.

“I was a two-star a first,” he said. “So I thought I’d just slide right over there and come out and play in college.”

Dillon Lee, a linebacker from Buford, Ga., was eager to learn the culture of the Alabama experience.

“I came in early. … Coming into a national championship program, I feel like they are pretty strict,” Lee said. “Everyone does things a certain way and I just wanted to come in so I’d have a clue what’s going on, so I’d get a jump on everything.”

Wide receiver Amari Cooper said his standing on the depth chart this fall can’t take a hit from being here in the spring.

Alabama must replace its top three receivers from the 2011 national title team, and Cooper is one of a several who will compete for action.

“It all depends on what I do in spring practice,” he said. “If I perform how I know I can, I definitely see a lot of playing time.”

Each of the new players discussed benefits of the conditioning head start they are getting.

“We’ll be stronger than the guys coming in in the summer,” Cooper said. “I already have gained like 9 pounds. You get accustomed to things faster than they do.”

But the first day with Cochran isn’t something on the recruiting tour.

“Honestly, I almost died,” said Taylor, the 6-foot-6, 360-pounder looking to shed a few pounds. “But since then, it’s been great; it’s been fun. I’m just enjoying the experience because if you look at ‘Oh man, I got to come in and work out every day,’ you’re not going to survive. You have to look at it, ‘I have another day to get better. I have another chance to improve myself.’

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