When Northwestern High School holds a National Signing Day ceremony on Wednesday, Madeline Ramsey will be in class. A college class.
Ramsey is already enrolled at LSU where she will play women’s soccer for Brian Lee and the Tigers the next four years. Ramsey joined another Trojan athletic standout, football quarterback Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), in graduating from school during the winter break and beginning the college adventure one semester ahead of their peers.
“I wanted to go ahead and start getting used to having soccer as kind of a job, and being able to keep up with my grades at the same time,” Ramsey said over the phone as she walked to her dorm in Baton Rouge, La., last Friday.
While not necessarily a trend yet, graduating from high school early to enroll in college is slowly becoming more common. Rudolph was a recent high profile local example, as was York running back Ryan Moore who is already encamped at Youngstown State for the spring semester. For the elite student-athlete with fulfilled high school academic requirements, why wait?
“It’s certainly beneficial for the kids to get an early start, in terms of settling in with their teammates and getting used to the class routine before the fall season,” said Lee, LSU’s coach since 2004. “The kids that come in in January get a big leg up.”
Ramsey said she likes to have things planned out ahead of time. She committed to LSU as a freshman, after being named one of the top-100 girls’ soccer players in the country in her age group.
“She had a list of four or five colleges that she was interested in and she kind of already knew she wanted to go into elementary education or interior design,” said Florence Ramsey, Madeline’s mother. “It wasn’t like one of those things where somebody kind of goes where the first offer was. She knew what kind of situation LSU was, she liked the coaches and the players, and I think the biggest thing was she knew in ninth grade what she wanted to do and they had both majors there.”
Ramsey was familiar with LSU, and the early enrollment process, because of her older sister, Alex.
Alex Ramsey just graduated from LSU in December, missing her sister by a couple of weeks. The older Ramsey sister made 81 career starts during her four years playing women’s soccer for the Tigers, and earned All-SEC Academic Honor Roll for three straight years. She graduated a semester early from Rock Hill High School in late 2009, a decision that worked out so well that her sister was attracted to the idea too.
“When I committed as a freshman, I wasn’t sure about it, but by the end of sophomore year, beginning of junior year, I was like, ‘yes, that’s what I want to do,’ ” Madeline Ramsey said.
That decision can’t be made in December of the senior year of high school. The early enrollment path requires foresight and planning.
For students interested in graduating early, meeting with a guidance counselor and charting a path is imperative. Early enrollees have to be registered with the NCAA Eligibility Center and must request final amateurism certification from the NCAA on Oct. 1 of their senior year, as opposed to April 1 for normal graduates.
They also can’t graduate without meeting South Carolina’s baseline requirements, and they must have received qualifying test scores on the SAT or ACT.
“You really in some cases start putting that plan together to make sure it will work in the spring of their sophomore year, or most definitely by the spring of their junior year,” said Bobby Page, a guidance counselor at Northwestern who helped Ramsey and Rudolph graduate early last month.
Lee said LSU has had five players join the program through early enrollment in the last four years.
“It just takes a lot of pre-planning,” he said. “It’s a decision that’s got to be made two years out if you want to try and do it.”
Pros and cons
The benefits are obvious. It was written in blogs and newspapers last month that Rudolph has a shot to start at quarterback this fall for nationally-ranked Oklahoma State as a true freshman. He couldn’t do that without bedding in during the spring semester and adjusting to college life.
For Alex Ramsey, the benefits were undeniable. She started as a freshman, and never relinquished her spot.
“I was a little twig, so I had to start lifting weights,” said Alex, who is currently living in Charlotte. “The best time to do that is in the spring when there’s not really any pressure to try and get a starting position.”
Student-athletes that enroll in college early undoubtedly miss out on some of the traditional rites of the second semester of high school senior year. Not only will Ramsey miss senior prom, but also Northwestern’s soccer season. Ramsey said she didn’t think she would ever care about any of that stuff. That changed right before she was supposed to leave for LSU, especially knowing she would miss her “soccer sisters,” as she called her Northwestern teammates.
“I wasn’t upset,” she said, “but I was kind of like, ‘man, I’m gonna miss all these things. I kind of wish I could do some of those.’ ”
There was a quick tonic for those blues: Baton Rouge. Once Ramsey arrived at LSU she was too immersed in her new college life to even worry about what she was missing in high school. Besides, she’ll return to Rock Hill to walk across the graduation stage with her class in June.
“I’ve kind of made my own life here now,” she said. “I like it.”
Ramsey has been soaking up the “little sister” treatment from her new family of soccer sisters. Having a sibling predecessor undoubtedly has its benefits, especially with regards to soccer.
“I think that’s a huge advantage for her,” said Lee. “She’s just more familiar than a normal freshman with how we do things.”
It also has benefits off the field. Alex Ramsey said many of her teammates have focused their maternal instincts on her younger sister. Free meals, introductions to social circles, and built-in caretakers far from home have helped Madeline Ramsey bed in to her new surroundings. Alex said that she had a tough time her first semester getting used to her new life on her own, but her sister won’t have those problems.
“That’s why my parents never hear from her,” she said, laughing.
A 2013 USA Today story reported that 162 high school football players enrolled in Football Bowl Championship Series schools for the spring semester last year. That was the most the publication had counted since it began tracking early enrollments in 2002.
“I do see it becoming more and more of a trend,” said Page. “The general student goes into their senior year only needing English, government/econ and a math. With the demands of collegiate athletics and all the money and the pressure to perform on coaches and schools, I see this becoming more and more prevalent.”
That doesn’t mean early enrollment is right for every student-athlete in every sport. Lee said he was “neither here nor there” on the issue, and didn’t push recruits to decide one way or another. Instead, early enrollment prospects like Ramsey tend to suss themselves out, and usually well before National Signing Day.
“The one characteristic of all of our kids that have done it,” said Lee, “they’re all really highly motivated, on and off the field.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T