Newest Canes adjusting to college atmosphere

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- There they were, minding their own business and dutifully watching practice film when some upperclassmen began to urge Miami's four fab freshmen from Northwestern High to check out their new uniforms in the locker room downstairs.

"They're like, 'Your new jerseys, they've got your name on it and everything. Go see them,'" defensive tackle Marcus Forston remembered with a smile.

Unable to resist the trap, Forston and fellow freshmen Jacory Harris, Aldarius Johnson and Sean Spence all headed downstairs to find two of their bikes stuffed into bathroom stalls and toilet-papered and two more hung up and taped to giant pillars. (It required scissors and a little teamwork to get them down). Spence was observant enough to catch the "booby trap" rigged above Johnson's locker -- a cup of water -- before it spilled.

"We were laughing," Forston said. "Just part of being a freshman."

These players, though, chose to enroll at Miami early and get their initiations over with now.

Spring football practice began Feb. 26 at Miami, and eight of the Hurricanes' 32 incoming freshmen left their friends, families and high school classmates behind to be there. It's a trendy move urged by coaches -- and sometimes parents, too -- in order for the young players to get acclimated to campus, classes and, of course, Division I-A football.

Most of Miami's newest additions agreed a few early hits will pay off in August.

"By the time [the rest of the freshmen] get here, it's going to be 100 percent full go," said place-kicker Jake Wieclaw, who had to take his English 4 class online in order to finish early at Lincoln Way Central High School in New Lenox, Ill. "Spring ball is a little more laid-back, more learning. It's definitely going to be a huge advantage. We'll have a couple extra credits on our belt, a heads-up on what to expect, and on top of that I'm going to know a lot more people already."

The speed and intensity of practices caught most of the new players off guard -- as did Forston's alarm clock the first time it rang at 5 a.m. One look at a teammate doing a "rolly-polly," in which he's disciplined at the end of practice by lying down and rolling the length of the field (while stopping on occasion to throw up) easily set the tone. After about two days of practice in pads, Hurricanes coach Randy Shannon said, the stunned look on their faces disappears, and any fear is usually knocked out of them.

"It's a great opportunity for them to learn the offense, learn the defense and also get the tempo of what we're trying to do," said Shannon, who brought in arguably one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. "The best thing about it is that we're not worrying about coaching in the fall and August, saying, 'Hey, run to the football. Hey, tuck the ball away, finish.' We're doing it now, so when camp starts in the fall, it's like now they become a redshirt freshman instead of a true freshman."

The one concern Shannon said he has is the new players getting homesick.

"You don't want them ever alone," he said. "So we always make sure the players are around them all the time."

Not something the guys from Northwestern High -- which is about 10 minutes away from campus -- have to worry about.

"If I get sick, like I am now," Spence said, "I can just go home and my mom, she can give me a little NyQuil or something like that."

Last spring, Spence was taking his English 4 and economics classes from 5-9 p.m. in order to graduate early. Spence said the faculty at Northwestern High had a going-away party in the student union for the players who decided to leave early.

"I talked to the coach and my mom, and they were telling me that they figured it would be a good idea to get out early, get a grasp on the college atmosphere and get a jump start on college football and college classes," said Spence, who still plans to attend his senior prom in May. "I miss my teachers. I left early and they were all disappointed. That was kind of hard for me."

So was the first workout.

"Terrible," said Spence, a linebacker. "I didn't think I was going to see the next day. But I pushed through and I made it."

Outside linebacker Arthur Brown, from Wichita East High School in Kansas, said enrolling early is something he felt he had to do to be prepared for his first season.

"The hardest part for me was adjusting, on the football field and with school and all of that," he said. "It seems like you've got a whole bunch of time, but really you don't. There's always something you've gotta be doing."

Asked if he plans to go back to Kansas for his senior prom, Brown clammed up.

"I don't wanna put nothin' out there," he said.

"Might be a surprise," Forston teased.

For Forston, Miami was the "dream college right around the corner from my house," and getting here as soon as possible was a no-brainer. Despite his familiarity with the program, though, everything -- and everyone -- was a little bigger than expected.

"You've got to start crawling again before you walk," said Forston, who couldn't quite remember which four classes he's taking now. "Guys are bigger and stronger. Compared to other schools, they say this is a small campus, but your first step on campus everything is large and widespread. It seems like it, anyway."

The rookies are still trying to figure out the campus shuttle-bus system, but they've learned quickly not to sit on the comfy, inviting couches in the locker room. ("If you do," Brown said, "they say they'll tape you up and stuff like that.") The couches are a privilege only after one year in the program. They'll be sure to share that rule with the other freshmen who arrive this fall.

Or maybe they'll just let one of the upperclassmen do it.

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.