Somewhere between 2,500 to 3,000 freshmen players will enroll at D-1 programs this fall. Only a few of them will make major contributions in 2009.
Most of them will need time to mature physically or learn their program’s system. Some will get stuck behind fully-loaded depth charts, while others will experience that first-year fog that even regular college students go through.
It’s a bit of a crap shoot predicting who will make the biggest impact right away, because you never know how these players will react once they are exposed to the intense pressure of August two-a-days. The ones who respond well physically still often have trouble absorbing things mentally. The freshman who can weather all this and still thrive at such a high level of football is usually the exception.
Based on the situations in which they enter and the talent they possess, here is my list of some of the freshmen I think will make impacts this season (in no particular order). I don’t think there are any Adrian Petersons or Herschel Walkers in this group, but you never know:
Gabe Lynn, S, Oklahoma–It looks to me like he’ll have a great shot to replace Nic Harris at safety. He’s leaner and more natural in the open field than Harris and has better one-on-one coverage ability. That’s something the Sooners secondary will need in the wide-open Big 12.
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford–Yeah, the Cardinal have a couple stud senior linebackers in place, but I think there’s a chance Skov gets lots of time playing weakside backer. He’s typical of the type of player Jim Harbaugh is starting to bring to Stanford (tough, smart, fleet of foot).
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia–I think there’s a chance that Murray–who entered UGA in the spring–overtakes senior Joe Cox at some point in the season. He’s just too good to sit and the temptation to redshirt him will be easy to ignore if the Bulldogs lose a game or two early.
Marlon Brown, WR, Georgia–Brown could team with A.J. Green to form a potent but young receiving corps. Brown is a physical specimen at 6-4, 205…the kind of guy you play right away because he may not be in your program all four years.
Morrell Presley, TE/WR, UCLA–Offensive coordinator Norm Chow loves to use the tight end and he has a unique hybrid type of player in Presley, who was in for the spring. He’s a big, lean target with quick feet for his size and good leaping ability.
Stanley Hasiak, OL, UCLA–The Bruins were in horrible shape on the offensive line last year and needed help quick, which led to a pretty good incoming line class. Hasiak appears to be the most physically ready of the bunch and it would not surprise me to see him play a lot or start from day one.
Tate Forcier, QB, Michigan–Forcier is an ideal fit for Rich Rodriguez’s offense. Like all the Forciers, he’s a good athlete, but unlike the older two (at Stanford and UCLA) he is a pretty good passer as well. Was in for the spring and will likely be handed the reins of the offense. Other freshmen (Pat White) have thrived in this scheme, so I think Forcier has a shot to do so as well.
Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan–The Wolverines aren’t really thin at tailback, but I’m not so sure any of them possess the speed and shiftiness that Toussaint brings to the table. Again, he should be perfect for the Rich Rod attack and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him leapfrog a few of the veteran backs on the depth chart.
Andre Debose, WR, Florida–The Gators need a playmaking wide receiver to replace Percy Harvin. While Debose isn’t quite on Harvin’s level athletically (not many are!), he is a talent in his own right. I can see him making an impact as a third receiver, on reverses and on special teams.
Corey Adams, DT, Arizona State–The Sun Devils need bulk up front and Adams is the best interior lineman signed by the program in quite a while. I expect he’ll start right out of the gate and end up as one of the better freshmen linemen in the country when all is said and done.
Shaquelle Evans, WR, Notre Dame–I think Evans will emerge as the third receiver in the Irish offense. With so much attention on Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, he may be an oft-open target for fellow West Coaster Jimmy Clausen. He’s an excellent route runner with good quicks and can catch the ball in a crowd.
David Oku, RB, Tennessee–I know many expect Oku’s fellow incoming freshman teammate Bryce Brown to make a bigger impact–and he just might–but I think with similarly-built Montario Hardesty already in place, there will be less of an inclination to put too much early pressure on the highly-touted Brown. However, Oku could make an immediate splash as a change-of-pace back and as a return specialist.
Russell Shepard, QB/WR, LSU–The multi-talented Sheperd could be college football’s version of Kordell Stewart this fall, taking snaps at both quarterback and wide receiver. He’s a bigtime weapon in the open field and no doubt LSU is salivating over the many ways they could use him on offense.
Craig Loston, S, LSU–The Tigers have done pretty well with true frosh safeties of late and it looks like Loston has a great shot at keeping that tradition alive.
Lindsey Lamar and Derrick Hopkins, KR/WR/RB, South Florida–A couple of lightning-quick smurfs who will make an impact for the Bulls on special teams and as all-purpose runners.
Isi Sofele, RB, Cal–Yes, Cal has Best and Vereen, but this guy is magic in the open field (reminds me of a young Chad Morton) and I can see him making an instant impact as a return man and as an occasional change-of-pace guy at tailback.
Travante Stallworth, WR, Auburn–Someone is going to have to catch all the balls thrown in Gus Malzahn’s offense. With very little experience back for the Tigers at wide out, the speedy Stallworth has a chance to emerge as one of the better freshman receivers in the country.
These are just a few of the many freshmen out there who are going to make significant contributions this season. Feel free to offer your choices in the comments section.
Will any freshmen have an impact like this guy in 2009?