Taikwon Paige knew his life had changed the first time he heard the bugle sounding reveille at 5:30 a.m.
Ross Madison said marching everywhere in step took awhile to get used to.
In what is a large number for any college football program, the University of Toledo had six mid-year enrollees from the most recent recruiting class, plus two now-eligible transfers from Big Ten schools, taking part in spring practice. Three of them - Paige, Madison, and Robert Lisowski - were recruited from military prep schools.
Locating those talents at those places wasn't simply happenstance. UT coach Tim Beckman had been to places like Hargrave Military Academy and Fork Union Military Academy, both in Virginia, while an assistant coach at both Ohio State and Oklahoma State.
"Based on my past experiences, we definitely look at those places," Beckman said after Friday night's spring game at the Glass Bowl. "I have contacts on those coaching staffs and have had some success in the past getting good players from those schools."
First impressions would indicate he and his UT staff got some good ones this time too.
Madison, a safety from Hargrave, had seven unassisted tackles and 11 total stops in Friday's game. Lisowski, a 6-foot-4, 292-pound offensive guard from Fork Union, opened the crease that allowed running back Adonis Thomas to vault up and over for a touchdown in the second quarter. Paige, from Georgia Military College, has already moved to the top of the depth chart at the athletic "field" cornerback position, opposite senior returnee Desmond Marrow at the bigger, more physical "boundary" corner.
"The biggest plus for kids who take a postgraduate [after high school] year at a military school is that they get a year to compete against college-level players without costing them a year of eligibility," Beckman said.
That's the case with both Madison and Lisowski, who entered UT as freshmen with full five-year clocks to complete four years of eligibility. Paige received a two-year community college degree at Georgia Military College and enters as a junior with two years of eligibility. That's also the case with Charles Rancifer, a linebacker from Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) CC, another mid-year enrollee who had a sack and was a disruptive factor throughout Friday's game.
Those four, as well as two early enrollees direct from the high school ranks and the Big Ten transfers, are a big boost for a UT program trying to recover from four straight losing seasons.
"It pays dividends in depth and competition," Beckman said. "They come in and push the players who are already here. Plus, it gets a semester of school under their belts before they even have to think about playing in games."
And those from the military prep schools seem ready for those games right now.
"My two years [at Georgia Military College] made me a better practice player, a better competitor," Price said. "And the military structure was a big help too. There's a lot of responsibility; up at 5:30 every morning, uniform pressed, a lot of little things that made me a better person."
Ross, who went to Hargrave after being lightly recruited out of high school, agreed that "there is definitely more discipline. And the year of football there helped me adjust to the speed of college ball. Now, I'm more prepared, plus being here for spring ball let me learn the defense faster and got me in the weight room. I know I'm bigger and stronger. I'm ready to go."
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