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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Not Everybody Is Eager to Give It That College Try

May 04, 2003|Eric Sondheimer

Forgive me for committing the sin of calling parents of two teenage football players and asking them a silly question: Is your son thinking of skipping his senior year of high school to play college football?

My temptation to act like a tabloid journalist was provoked by the decision of Louisiana prep quarterback John David Booty to forgo his senior year to enroll at USC this fall.

It never occurred to me that a high school junior would be in such a hurry to abandon home-cooked meals, leave behind life-long friends and prematurely say goodbye to his prep years.

So it was with great humiliation that I picked two young football players to see if they would consider pulling a Booty. Each has the academic and athletic background to be an ideal candidate.

Aaron Ware is a sophomore running back at Westlake Village Oaks Christian. He probably could pick any college he wants. His brother, Matt, is a starting defensive back at UCLA.

The other player, Jimmy Clausen, is an eighth-grader and the younger brother of Casey and Rick Clausen, quarterbacks at Tennessee and Louisiana State.

Jimmy is 6 feet 3, will attend Oaks Christian this fall and projects as a big-time quarterback prospect even though he has never put on a helmet or shoulder pads.

My sense is both could follow the Booty example of getting their classes completed in three years and have a college willing to give them a scholarship.

But their fathers are in no rush to let their sons face the trials and tribulations of college life without taking advantage of the learning experience high school offers.

"It's so alien to me," said Bernie Ware, Aaron's father. "When we went to school, we graduated with our class. It's so outside of the norm that it's nothing I've ever considered. Isn't going to high school more than playing sports?"

Jim Clausen, Jimmy's father, said his son hopes to graduate in 3 1/2 years as his brothers did, so he'll be able to enroll at a college in the spring of his senior year, but skipping his senior football season is not something to consider.

"I think kids need to be kids," he said. "Why not enjoy your high school experience?"

Clausen has received criticism because Casey and Jimmy each repeated a grade to help them develop physically and mentally as they made it to high school.

"We've taken some heat, but I think it's the best thing," he said.

The fact Booty is leaving high school early is unusual for a football player but not unique in athletics.

Outstanding teenage tennis players have graduated early to help speed the process of turning professional.

Last year, Stacy Lindstrom, a top girls' soccer player from Orange County, skipped her senior year to enroll at UCLA because she dominated her peers. She was a starter as a freshman for the Bruins.

Greg Folk, a sophomore soccer player at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, is headed to Florida this fall to participate in a U.S. national soccer training program and is planning to pass up his senior season so he can begin college.

Two years ago, pitcher Jeremy Bonderman from Pasco, Wash., turned 18 and gave up his senior year of high school.

He passed the high school equivalency examination and was drafted in the first round by the Oakland Athletics. At 20, he's pitching for the Detroit Tigers.

Times are changing, and sportswriters are having to ask parents whether their sons and daughters might leave high school early for college or the pros.

Oaks Christian football Coach Bill Redell doesn't appreciate such speculation.

"As far as high school kids coming out early, I hope we're not into that," he said. "I'm 62 and don't need the aggravation. I don't see the hurry to get out of high school."

Welcome to prep life, 2003.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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