The 2018 season was the first with the new redshirt rule. To recap, a player could play in a total of four games and still be considered a redshirt freshman the following season, preserving a year of eligibility. This had many benefits, but also led to some tough choices for coaches. Were their enough opportunities or snaps available for a true freshman to play all year? Were they playing well enough to get a more prominent role or was a four-game sampler sufficient for them? The results and decisions varied.
Today, we review 15 freshmen from last season, with as much variety in their outcomes as possible. Some had their redshirts burned and did well, others shouldn’t be played over four games. Others got playing time and still maintained their redshirt eligibility. Read all about it below.
Decisions that worked well
WR Khalil Shakir (Boise State)
Khalil was assumed to play a role for the Broncos in his true freshman season, and that’s precisely what happened. He was on the field for the first offensive play of the season and made his presence known much of the year. Shakir played in the first 10 games of the year until suffering an injury catching a game-winning touchdown pass and wouldn’t play again for the rest of the year. Still, he showed he belonged, gaining 240 yards between passing and rushing to go along with two touchdowns, and is primed for a breakout year next year.
DL Isaiah Johnson (Fresno State)
Isaiah is another true freshman who had his redshirt burned and made the most of it without a doubt. He played in 11 total games for the MWC champs and put up substantial numbers for a first-year. Johnson tallied 15 total tackles, which included 8 solo tackles. In addition to this, he racked up 2.5 sacks, and 2 QB hurries. He should build on that over the next three seasons.
RB Zidane Thomas (San Diego State)
Even with injuries to their depth at the position, the Aztecs preserved Thomas’ redshirt. He didn’t have much of a role on the field when he did play. Two attempts for four yards can hardly be called a role, but he didn’t get to experience the speed of the college game and bigger, faster linemen getting in his way.
QB Chevan Cordeiro (Hawaii)
Hawaii had a tight quarterback battle this fall, and when they went with veteran Cole McDonald, it meant Cordeiro would be redshirted. However, when Cole went through struggles and a suspension, it was Chevan who got the start. He played in four games total, including one fantastic come from behind win. He totaled 6 touchdowns and 384 passing yards, setting up a QB battle for the second straight offseason. Maybe the MWC poster-child for the new rule, as Hawaii got to see Chevan in live action, knows what he can do and what he can improve on, and still preserve four years of eligibility.
OL Solo Vaipulu (Hawaii)
It’s not often a true freshman can rise to the top of the depth chart as an offensive lineman and even more rare that it happens at a group of 5 school. Nevertheless, Solo did just that for Hawaii last season. The coaching staff thought he had a good enough to start the year playing and he rewarded that decision by staring all 14 games at right guard (one of only 4 freshmen to do such a feat this year according to the Hawaii football website). Hawaii now knows they have an anchor on the OL for the next three years.
NT Scale Igiehon (Boise State)
The third of the Boise State trio to exhaust their true freshman eligibility, Scale looked like an absolute steal and a star in the making at nose tackle. He played in 11 games, including 3 starts, and did more than hold his own. It’s worth mentioning that nose tackle may be one of the hardest positions to play at a true freshman (along with QB and offensive line) due to both the knowledge and scheme of the position as well as the physical maturity and strength needed. Igiehon displayed both, putting up 23 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks.
QB Sean Chambers (Wyoming)
Like Corderio above, Chambers showed Wyoming and the MWC what he could do while also preserving his redshirt status. In 4 games, Sean passed for 266 yards and 3 touchdowns while he also rushed for 329 yards and 2 TDs and as of last week, was officially announced as the starting quarterback for the Cowboys for the upcoming season.
CB Rashad Ajayi (Colorado State)
The first true freshman to start every game since 2013 when Rashard Higgins did it, Ajayi was one of the few bright spots on the Rams. He led the team in forced fumbles and pass breakups, with 2 and 6 respectively. He also made 33 tackles, plus a sack and an interception. Rashad’s future is bright and holding him back would’ve been a mistake.
OL Andy Koch (Utah State)
Andy was a standout player in high school, as a defensive lineman. However, Utah State envisioned him on the other side of the ball once getting to the college level. Learning a new position and putting on the necessary weight made a redshirt season seem like a foregone conclusion. It was, but the Aggies were still able to mix Andy in from time to time. He played 47 snaps over three games, giving him valuable experience at a new spot and setting him up well for the next four years.
Decisions that didn’t go as well
RB Andrew Van Buren (Boise State)
The four-star running back played from the get-go and appeared in nine games overall for the Broncos last season. However, he only got 34 touches, which comes in at just under 4 touches a game. Nice experience to build on to be sure, but was it enough for a year of eligibility? The 163 yards and 2 touchdowns weren’t terrible but not eye-popping numbers. If a big sophomore jump takes place, then this is all null-and-void but until then...
WR Nikko Hall (Colorado State)
One of the top recruits in all of the Mountain West in 2018 class would seem like a no brainer to have their redshirt burned right? One would think, but that was before the Rams train wreck of a season they had. Hall played in 9 games but failed to crack 100 yards, for the season. He only found the end-zone once as well. For a team in need of playmakers, they should have one with Nikko going forward, but they’ll now have him for one less season.
WR JR Justice (San Diego State)
This one is interesting. Another one of the top three players in the MWC 2018 class, but he didn’t appear in any games last year? Justice is the type of player who would either have his redshirt burned or else be the type of player the rule is made for. It’s great he still has four years of eligibility, but he has no game experience when he could’ve gotten some under the new rule? Doesn’t make sense.
LB Isaak Togia (San Jose State)
Togia was one of the top recruits in the 2018 class for the Spartans and for all of the MWC. He was in the top 10 2018 recruits on the MWCConnection list. Playing him as much as possible as a true freshman seemed like a excellent idea for a team going for a youth movement, but the results just weren’t there. Togia played in only 6 games last season and had a grand total of 2 tackles. Not that type of season one usually has in mind when burning a redshirt.
LB Chad Muma (Utah State)
Whether it was a lack of opportunities or just being overmatched at this stage in his career, Chad Muma now being a sophomore is quite a puzzling scenario. As a linebacker, he played in 12 games during the 2018 season. He totaled two tackles. 2. One solo and one assisted. That’s it. Muma should develop into a fine player for the Cowboys, but it is realistic that come 2021, they’ll be wishing they had him for one more season.
WR Cole Turner (Nevada)
Cole Turner was put up big numbers in high school but was under-recruited for much of his senior year. He jumped on a Nevada offer and is an excellent fit as an outside WR in their air-raid attack. He stood out enough in fall camp to earn playing time, seeing the field in 12 games as a true freshman. In hindsight, the coaches should’ve reeled him back in after four games to maintain his redshirt. This is because he only caught two passes all season. One was a touchdown, which is great, but just not the level of targets that justify spending a year of eligibility.
Your turn: Any winners or losers that weren’t mentioned here? Agree or disagree on what was said above? Get in the discussion by commenting below.