National signing day is just five days away and while every college football team is putting the finishing touches on their respective recruiting classes, many of last year’s freshmen will be on the field for the first time in 2013.
At most major programs, freshmen often redshirt unless they are one of the top prospects in the country. The redshirt year gives the player time to acclimate to college, add size, learn the speed of the college game, etc.
The Virginia Tech Hokies signed 28 players in 2012. Most of the class redshirted and those who did play didn’t contribute significantly with the exception of running back J.C. Coleman.
Of the 20 players expected to sign with Virginia Tech next week, logic says only a handful will play as true freshmen. Here is a look at five players from last year’s class who could have the biggest impact in 2013.
The running back position featured four primary ball-carriers in 2012. Coleman, the true freshman, was the best of the bunch. He showed big-play ability and was good in the passing game when he got the opportunity.
Coleman had his negative moments, too. While he did display good vision, there were times he had a tendency to bounce things outside. To his credit, that may not entirely be his fault. The offensive line had issues opening holes, therefore Coleman felt he could use his outstanding speed to bounce things outside and make a play. It often led to lost yardage.
Coleman enrolled last January and it benefited him greatly. He put on extra muscle and was able to show the coaches in spring practice he was ready to play immediately.
Even with perhaps three or four more freshmen entering the mix at running back this year, Coleman will likely be the team’s starting running back. In addition to his blazing speed, Coleman runs with surprising power for someone of his size (5’7”, 192 lbs.). The new coaching staff is going to re-emphasize the run and Coleman will be first in line.
Edmunds was a player the coaching staff was very excited about last year. He was a talented high school running back and linebacker and head coach Frank Beamer wasn’t sure where he would play Edmunds in college. As of last August, the Hokies were going to give him a chance at running back.
Edmunds, the son of former NFL tight end Ferrell Edmunds, may move to linebacker in spring practice. His position isn’t clear right now but the Hokies almost played him as a true freshman in 2012 because he is such a good football player.
He will see the field next fall and he has the potential to make plays on either side of the ball. The redshirt year allowed Edmunds a year to acclimate to the college game and no doubt he will be up to the challenge.
The most celebrated player in the class of 2012, Caleb redshirted last year as he was not only recovering from a high school injury, but also making the switch to wide receiver. He played quarterback, defensive back and was a standout special teams performer in high school.
At 6’3”, 215 pounds, Caleb has good size to match his impressive speed. The wide receiver position for Virginia Tech, for the second straight year, faces massive defections. Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts, the Hokies’ top three receivers from 2012, have all graduated.
With the exception of Demitri Knowles and D.J. Coles, the Hokies will be inexperienced at the position in 2013. That bodes well for Caleb as he will likely battle Joshua Stanford and Kevin Asante for playing time. If Caleb shows coaches he has progressed in spring practice, he will have a big role this fall.
Clarke is one of the better athletes on the team. He appeared in the three games in 2012 as a true freshman but had only nine snaps on defense.
At 6’2”, 214 pounds, Clarke possesses ideal size but runs like a defensive back. The Hokies picture Clarke as a future starter at one of the two outside linebacker positions. He could also play in the middle if need be, but his speed would be best utilized on the outside.
Looking back, Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster would probably have liked to redshirt Clarke. There isn’t as much depth at linebacker this season as there was in 2012 and if senior Tariq Edwards is unable to stay healthy, Clarke could start. Jack Tyler and Ronny Vandyke would appear to have two of the three starting positions wrapped up. Edwards is a good player but can’t seem to stay healthy.
Clarke is too good of an athlete to not see the field in 2013. He will no doubt be a special teams standout as he plays with the reckless abandon that unit requires.
Ekanem, along with Caleb, were the Hokies’ top recruits last year. A defensive end, Ekanem redshirted in 2012 due to the depth of the position and his recovery from knee surgery. Several upperclassmen were ahead of him on the depth chart and allowing him a year to develop was a positive for Ekanem.
A talented pass-rusher, Ekanem had 18 sacks his senior year of high school before tearing his ACL in the state title game. On offense, he caught eight touchdown passes playing tight end, displaying his athletic ability.
The Hokies don’t have to rush Ekanem on the field in 2013 as James Gayle, J.R. Collins, Corey Marshall and Tyrel Wilson all return. Foster can bring Ekanem along slowly allowing him to come in on obvious passing downs to rush the quarterback, his specialty.