The draft is behind us. We also looked at which MWC players will likely hear their name called around this time next year in the NFL draft. This week, the focus shifts from seniors to newcomers in the college football world. Assuming the 2020 season takes place, which true freshman will make an impact in their first season for their respective team?
Wyoming has a developmental program where they redshirt the majority of their recruits every year. The true freshmen usually are physically developed in the weight room at the High Altitude Performance Center prior to seeing the field. A few players will see the field, but I’m not sure that any particular one will play a big enough role this fall to make a notable ‘impact’ that will be noticed across the conference. With recent graduations at linebacker, it is possible that a true freshmen might see the field at that position as the depth chart will change pretty dramatically there. Still, I think we are probably talking about backup roles rather than starting.
So, I will talk a little bit about another team that might produce an impact player. That team would be the Cowboys rival in the Border War, Colorado State. The Rams are transitioning from Mike Bobo to Steve Addazio as head coach. With that transition comes change and the opportunity for a true freshman to come in and make an impact. Addazio likes to run the football and brought Brian White with him from Boston College as Running Backs Coach and Associate Head Coach. Gone for the Rams is Marvin Kinsey. Marcus McElroy will be back as a senior and should go into the fall as the #1 running back for CSU. However, keep an eye out for Kyjuan Herndon as a player that might get some carries and make an impact. Herndon was a 3-star prospect out of Florida that was quite the get for Addazio. In fact, Herndon was an Ole Miss commit. After Matt Luke was fired in early December, Herndon decommitted from the SEC school and committed to Maryland a week later. However, Herndon did not sign with the Big Ten school as he chose to sign with Colorado State instead. At his signing day announcement, Herndon said, “It’s all about the opportunity.”
Don’t be surprised if this talented athlete shares some carries this fall with Marcus McElroy as a bit of a change-of-pace back. Marcus McElroy is 5’11” & 230 lbs while Herndon is 5’9” & 175 lbs. Knowing Addazio, there should be plenty of carries to go around. Herndon averaged 7.8 yards per carry in high school and could emerge as the lightning to McElroy’s thunder.
San Diego State is in a unique position, having most of their depth chart filled out with returning players and a few transfers. They lost some key players to graduation and to the NFL, notably QB Ryan Agnew, OL Keith Ismael, OL Daishawn Dixon, TE Parker Houston, CB Luq Barcoo, and LB Kyahva Tezino. With big shoes to fill, SDSU will be returning eight starters on offense and another eight on defense. We will see new faces in the starting lineup but it is safe to say hardly any will be true freshman due to the quality of the players ahead of them. That is not to say we won’t see the incoming recruiting class make an impact in 2020.
One recruits that Aztecs fans should be excited about is linebacker Vai Koha from Bishop Manogue High School. Koha already has a decent frame as a true freshman standing at 6 feet and a half inches while weighing roughly 210 pounds. He has room to bulk up but does own projectable length. The former Miners star is fluid in coverage, though he lacks some speed and quickness you would like to see. Koha has the potential to be San Diego State’s next Kyahva Tezino, which is high praise as Tezino was one of the most productive Aztecs of all time. This is because Koha has the ability to play on the edge as well as provide pressure as a blitzing linebacker, much like Tezino did as a starter. He will be battling for a starting spot opposite senior Andrew Aleki.
Honorable Mentions: OLB Kobah Fuamatu, OT Joey Wright
Most years it is pretty clear who will make an immediate impact for Boise State. This year it is a little tougher. The Broncos are super deep at wide receiver, so it is hard seeing their most talented recruit in Latrell Caples cracking the rotation. So, I will go with Herbert Gums who should be able to crack the two-deep at defensive tackle. Gums was a highly sought after recruit and has the size and speed to play right away. He reminds me a lot of Scale Igiehon who will be entering his junior year and also played as a true freshman.
Boise State does have some depth issues at safety where they lost Kekoa Nawahine and DeAndre Pierce. Semaj Verner will likely see time right away and should be a key contributor on special teams. The last true freshman that I expect to play is Austin Bolt. Bolt is a special athlete. Boise State recruited him as a tight end, but he played quarterback in high school. I think Bolt will primarily see the field in passing situations and should be a big target in the red zone.
This is a difficult question to answer for Hawaii football, which faces the adversity that comes with one of the most unusual off-seasons you’ll ever see. Nick Rolovich leaves for Washington State in January, forcing Hawaii to make a new coaching hire in a small window. Todd Graham is the guy, and inherits a signed recruiting class largely made up of players he didn’t personally recruit. With COVID-19 sidelining the Warriors and many others until fall (sigh...or later), the incoming freshmen will be making their first impressions at the same time as everyone else on the roster, at least when it comes to on-field performance. With that in mind, I think Quin Bright, the wide receiver from Cedar Hill, Texas, could make an instant impact. He’s one of the most highly-sought-after recruits Hawaii has ever landed, he competes at a position experiencing some attrition, and he’s one of Graham’s guys, if you know what I mean. The explosive wide receiver is my pick to make an immediate impact as a true freshman.
First year players for the Falcons almost never have an impact on team results. Occasionally, a player will come in and provide good depth at critical positions. In recent years, Jalen Robinette (Rowell) and Jordan Jackson have filled in as part time players and performed admirably as freshmen. The Falcon schemes are usually quite different and much more nuanced than anything high school football players encounter, and team aspects are much more important. Defensive schemes might be somewhat less demanding than learning the discipline of the option offense, so I can suggest a couple of possibilities on the defense. Two of the highly ranked recruits that the Falcons obtained last year have spent a year at the Air Force Academy Prep School and have learned a little about adjusting to the demands of the Academy and the specifics of the Falcon defense. Those two players are Nate Polk, a safety, and Demetris Dorceus, a defensive end. The defensive backfield has been severely depleted by graduation this year, and the Falcons will be looking for answers. Nate Polk is the highest ranked Falcon recruit of the last ten years, and Falcon fans can hope for a quick adjustment for him. Dorceus was also a 3 star recruit and could provide some backup in the event of injury to one of the starters. It’s also possible, however, that either of both of these players could decide that the demands of military service are not for them, and could decide to leave the Academy before the season starts.
I’m going to look at Utah State this week and have two players in mind, one on each side of the ball. Offensively, I could actually see both running back commits getting carries next fall but John Gentry is the better bet to make an immediate impact. RBs often play as true freshman and Gentry was the highest rated recruit in the class. He has the potential to be a star and the Aggies may as well start the future now.
Moving over to defense, Dahlin Mesake is a player I’ve liked ever since he gave his verbal commitment last September. He’s a linebacker, so he can likely make an impact both on defense as well as special teams. He already has good size and that position had some attrition last year, so there are snaps to be had. He should develop well for Utah State in the years to come.