This article first appeared in the Cal Kickoff Gameday Magazine, Sept. 3, 2011
When the 2011 Cal football training camp opened this year on Aug. 6, freshmen Avery Walls and Darren Ervin blazed their way up the hills through Strawberry Canyon without consulting a map. The pair arrived at the practice facility a little less winded and a lot more confident than the rest of their classmates. This was already a road often traveled for the duo, having made the trek to the football facilities dozens of time before. Walls and Ervin have been full-time students enrolled at Cal since January. Both young men chose to graduate high school a semester early and enroll in Cal, getting a head start on their educations and a head start on the gridiron by participating in spring practices with the team.
Early enrollment is a growing phenomenon across the country. In 2005, there were 34 students who graduated a semester early from high school and enrolled in a BCS-conference school for the spring term, the number edging up to 53 in 2006 and 69 in 2007. In 2010, there were over 100 making the early leap to college campuses.
Walls and Ervin are not the first two early enrollees at Cal. In fact, Ervin is the team's third tailback in the last four years, following Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson in 2008 and Trajaun Briggs in 2010. Despite the precedent, it still is a big decision that comes with it shares of pluses and minuses.
"There were a couple of events that I have heard that I have been missing out on," Ervin said. "The senior breakfast. The senior weekends. The senior picnic. But I felt that moving on to the next chapter, being a college student at Cal, that I have been helping myself onto bigger and better things."
Despite missing out on some of the fun of being a high school senior, both players went back to their high schools for the two most-important senior rites: prom and graduation.
"A lot of people were staring," Ervin said when recalling his return to the Lamar High School prom in Houston, Texas. "I could hear them saying, `That's Darren. He's in college. He's big!"
But for the most part, Ervin and Walls left high school behind and dove straight into college life in January, and the usual perils associated with freshmanitis.
"The most challenging thing has been managing my time," Walls said. "You have academics and a rigorous schedule. I was taking college writing, a six-unit course, and I had other classes. Then I had football, I had to learn the playbook and I had to work at getting things right. It was a load, but it could be managed. I just had to manage my time."
The decision to come to Cal, and to come early, was a combination of the football and academic opportunities. Walls, who wants to pursue business entrepreneurship, was lured to Cal by the dream of getting admitted to the Haas Business School. He wants to go into business after he graduates.
"Or maybe aviation," Walls said. "I used to fly planes when I was younger. I wanted to go to flight school."
Ervin wants to be an engineer, but is still weighing his options in that area.
"It is going to be chemical, petroleum or mechanical engineering," Ervin said. "I want to learn and understand the different types of engineering before I go in and major in one. "
But both have a much more immediate goal - using their extra time with the football program to give them a leg up on the field.
"Last spring, when I was practicing with the team, I really didn't know anything, so I was just trying to do my best to make any plays that I could," Walls said. "Now it is more of a structured deal. I know the plays. I know Coach Pendergast and Coach Ambrose and now they expect a lot out of me. Everything is more technical and not being so much physical."
So, was it worth it to them, making the jump early?
"Through all the ups and downs that I went through to get here and get adjusted, I was reminiscing and trying to figure out if I made the right decision or not," Ervin said. "I know, deep down, this was the right decision."
Walls seconded those sentiments.
"Here we have the great weather, the great academics and we have the great coaches," Walls said. "You are surrounded by one of the nicest cities, not just in the views, but in the niceness of the people themselves. I feel comfortable. I feel like I can walk along the streets and say hey to anybody and not have to worry about a thing. I can just have a good time. It has been a great transition. And I know I made the right decision."
*Note: Avery Walls officially changed his last name to "Sebastian" following his 18th birthday on Sept. 11, 2011.