First he was making some alert plays on defense, then Kareem Ali returned a kick for a good distance and was congratulated by his new teammates.

Running around on this breezy March day earlier this week, Ali sure didn't look like a freshman, but that is indeed what he is.

While the rest of the people Ali began classes with at Timber Creek in September are finishing their senior year, he has accelerated the process, having graduated early and now getting a head start on college both athletically and academically.

Ali will be a freshman cornerback and potential kick returner in the fall at Temple. He's participating in spring practice, and quite frankly, if the little that the media is able to see near the end of practice is any indication, he's making the gargantuan leap quite well.

The greatest asset for Ali, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, may be his mind. That's not to suggest that he doesn't have the requisite athletic skill, but one reason he is holding his own in spring practice is his intelligence, to go along with his confidence.

This is not an easy transition, something he readily admits.

"It was a big adjustment; the first few days were a little rough, and I picked it up in a live scrimmage and after that I started to pick up my confidence," Ali said after a recent spring practice.

The adjustment carries into the classroom. Ali hasn't eased into things. He is taking 15 credits.

"Academically, it is way more on you, and with study hall and everything, you have to use your time wisely," said Ali, who was an Inquirer first-team all-South Jersey defensive back.

There are some injuries in the Temple secondary which has given Ali important early reps with the first and second units.

"Everybody knows he is talented," said Temple coach Matt Rhule, whose team was 6-6 last season and has legitimate bowl aspirations this fall. "He is really smart and coachable, but if anything, he is a little too hard on himself."

To that statement, Ali says guilty as charged.

"I always have put a lot of pressure on myself," Ali said. "If I give up a pass, I will be hard on myself because I know I should make the play."

Rhule would like his newcomer to relax a little more.

Good luck with that one, coach.

"He doesn't have to be the savior," Rhule said. "We have a lot of defensive backs, he has to just come in and learn, and I think he will be a really outstanding player for a long time."

Part of the reason Ali was successful at Timber Creek, however, was that he had such high expectations. And even though the competition is now on another level, Ali will remain hard on himself.

While he misses the good times at Timber Creek, he is glad that he made this decision and would much rather take his initial lumps now than during fall practice.

Temple senior-to-be linebacker Tyler Matakevich also was a mid-year enrollee who attended spring practice before his freshman season. Matakevich now has a chance to join six other NCAA players in major college football history to have four seasons of 100 or more tackles.

"This will give him [Ali] a jump start ahead of the game," Matakevich said. "He is another guy who will be able to come in and learn the playbook and understand the defense."

Ali will also get be accustomed to what is demanded in the classroom.

It's been quite an education this spring for Ali. The lessons learned have been difficult and at times humbling, but that's all part of adjusting to his new environment.

Leaving high school mid-year isn't for everybody, but in this case, Ali seems to be benefiting from his early education both on and off the field.