Unlike the rest of his classmates, Kyle Tudor won't return to Lakeside High School at the end of the holiday break. At least, he won't return as a high school student.
By taking Advanced Placement courses in high school and English courses at Georgia Military College, Kyle, 17, managed to earn enough credits to graduate a semester early.
"Before I was into football, my parents were always pushing academics, so I was always in advanced courses," the Lakeside senior said. "So, getting the credits I needed wasn't that hard."
Kyle intends to start his college career in January at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. The linebacker earned a football scholarship at the school and wanted to start early to take part in spring practices.
Doing so might give Kyle an edge on other freshman players on the team.
"Going through spring practices gives you another 15 practices with the team," said Steve Fink, the media relations director for the University of South Carolina athletic department. "It might give you a leg up on the guys coming in (during) the fall. It gives you an opportunity to get a feel for it before you really get into the fall with the games."
Though there are advantages of starting college early for athletes, very few students take advantage of the opportunity.
Fink said just one or two students might start early each year at South Carolina.
At Georgia Southern University, spokesman Pat Osterman said he knew of just one student athlete, a soccer player, who graduated high school early to take part in spring workouts.
A spokeswoman for the East Carolina athletic department said NCAA regulations prevented her from discussing Kyle and his early admission.
School officials in Richmond and Columbia counties knew of no other student who had graduated early.
In the Gwinnett County school system, the state's largest, 25 people graduated early last school year, said spokeswoman Sloan Roach. However, it is a system with a pupil population of more than 154,000, including about 9,000 12th-graders.
The University of Georgia typically accepts four to six freshman students starting a semester early. Perhaps the best-known example of such a student at Georgia is former star quarterback Eric Zeier, said Assistant Sports Communication Director Christopher Lakos. University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy in 2007, is another example of a student graduating early to start a college career, he said.
Though still somewhat rare, Lakos said the practice of accepting students early is becoming more common.
"As long as they've met the NCAA's academic requirements, the opportunity is there," he said. "It's up to the individual student athlete."
Though she is not opposed to a high-performing student graduating high school early, Richmond County schools' Dr. Carol Roundtree, the director of guidance and testing, said other factors should be considered before allowing a student to immediately start college.
"There should be adequate counseling going on to make sure the student has matured so that he's ready to accept college work," Roundtree said. "That freshman year is always difficult, even for those who had a full four years of high school."
Fink didn't disagree.
"It's not something we necessarily encourage a lot," he said. "There's something to be said for a young man finishing out high school and all the things that go along with that."
Kyle said he's prepared to forgo such high school rites of passage as senior prom, a senior trip, and walking with his classmates during a graduation ceremony.
"I'd like to be able to come back and walk with my friends at graduation, but if I can't, then so be it," he said. "Football is everything to me. I'll make whatever sacrifices I have to."
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