Caroline Brinson will cross the stage in her white graduation dress with the rest of her high school class on May 30.
But every morning until then, the Academy of the Sacred Heart senior from New Orleans will wake up at 7:15 a.m., eat a bowl of cereal, drink some orange juice, and go to class as a freshman at Georgia.
Brinson, 18, worked out a joint-enrollment program with both schools so she could join the Georgia women‚Äôs tennis team a semester early.
‚ÄúThe challenge was that her high school had never had to deal with anything like that before,‚Äù Brinson‚Äôs mother, Elizabeth, said. ‚ÄúThey had never had any athletes that had done that yet, so that was tough.‚Äù
Of the seven Georgia women‚Äôs tennis players on the roster, sophomores Mia King and Silvia Garcia also enrolled early.
Brinson arrived at Georgia just before this semester. She had little time to adjust to her new life before the team went to Hawaii to play in the Maui Tennis Classic in mid-January.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs really intimidating to come in when school‚Äôs already been in session and you don‚Äôt know where everything is,‚Äù King said. ‚ÄúShe is so much more mature than I would have ever expected her to be, especially with handling the class load and everything.‚Äù
Brinson has already made an impact. She has played in both singles (5-1) and doubles (11-2), where she plays with senior Lilly Kimbell. Brinson played at No. 6 singles in Georgia‚Äôs Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal match against LSU Friday, going 1-6, 6-2, 0-1 against Garbrielle Otero before it was halted after Lauren Herring clinched the match at No. 1 singles. Brinson and Kimbell fell at No. 3 doubles in Georgia‚Äôs 4-1 semifinal win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.
But at 1 p.m. today, Brinson and the Bulldogs will play for the conference tournament title, trying to win it like Brinson‚Äôs mother and the Bulldogs did 25 years ago.
‚Äú(Georgia coach) Jeff (Wallace) was the one that asked her what she thought about coming early,‚Äù Brinson‚Äôs mother said. ‚ÄúLiterally she went from being very, very tentative and a little bit nervous to about 10 minutes later she was like, ‚ÄòOf course I‚Äôm going to do that. I would be crazy not to.‚Äô‚Äù
Brinson realized this was a ‚Äúgolden opportunity,‚Äù she said. In high school, she challenged herself as much as she could, but still lacked the everyday training and competitive atmosphere collegiate tennis was sure to bring.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a big benefit for my tennis game and just to be a part of this team as soon as I could,‚Äù Brinson said. ‚ÄúI wanted to be here. My heart was here.‚Äù
There‚Äôs still coursework to finish before she receives her high school diploma. Brinson‚Äôs spring class credits ‚Äî including English, political science, religion and statistics ‚Äî will count toward her final high school requirements and her first college credits.
‚ÄúI was used to carrying that course load and having to the balance the athletics and the academics,‚Äù Brinson said. ‚ÄúIt hasn‚Äôt been a tough transition yet. I‚Äôm hoping it doesn‚Äôt get any harder. I mean, I feel pretty well adjusted.‚Äù
One thing that hasn‚Äôt been easy to master is the Georgia bus system.
‚Äú(My teammates) all helped me on the bus situation because I think that was the most stressful thing,‚Äù Brinson said. ‚ÄúMy first week of school was all about what bus to get on. Any tip, I‚Äôll take it.‚Äù
Apart from the bus dilemma, the transition has been smooth, making it seem like Brinson and the Bulldogs were meant to meet from the beginning.
But that wasn‚Äôt always the case ‚Äî even though her parents, grandfather and uncle were all Georgia athletes. Until Brinson was accepted to the school, Elizabeth had no idea her daughter had any interest at all in attending her alma mater.
‚ÄúI think she was almost hiding it,‚Äù Elizabeth said. ‚ÄúWe were visiting all these other schools, but I think in the end she was thrilled.‚Äù
Elizabeth was a product of Wallace‚Äôs coaching and helped the team win the SEC championship in 1989. She was the reason her daughter started playing the sport. After watching her mother hit balls, Caroline was 8 years old when she decided she wanted to play.
‚ÄúWith her mom playing tennis here and now Caroline also on the team, it‚Äôs a great honor for me to be able to say I have a mother and a daughter on my team,‚Äù Wallace said. ‚Äú(It‚Äôs) great for Georgia and just really a neat thing for their family.‚Äù
Although tennis is somewhat of a family tradition, Elizabeth said she didn‚Äôt try to sway Caroline in the direction of her former school.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs hard for me to really explain it but Athens just feels like a home away from home to me,‚Äù Brinson said. ‚ÄúIt all felt right when I was on campus. The unique town, great food, my family history, the tennis program. … You really can‚Äôt beat it. I‚Äôm living my dream.‚Äù
Although there might have been some hesitation at the beginning, nothing of the sort remains. Once arriving in Athens, Brinson immediately fit in with the rest of the team and is the only freshman on Georgia‚Äôs roster.
‚ÄúShe‚Äôs not shy, which is awesome,‚Äù Georgia junior Lauren Herring said. ‚ÄúWhen I came, I didn‚Äôt say a word for the first week or two. She‚Äôs goofy and weird and funny. She‚Äôs almost like a new life of the team.‚Äù
Brinson‚Äôs youthfulness didn‚Äôt take long to come out. For the indoor national championship banquet in February, Wallace had the team create YouTube video for fun. Brinson immediately suggested doing a Justin Bieber music video and starred in the video.
Whatever the new experience, Brinson seemingly will face it head on.
‚ÄúWe love her,‚Äù King said. ‚ÄúShe‚Äôs done great, and she‚Äôs a natural Bulldog. She‚Äôs just conquered everything and been like, ‚ÄòGive me what you‚Äôve got, and I‚Äôll take care of it.‚Äô‚Äù
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia‚Äôs Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.