Can any freshmen have the same kind of impact Joel Stave had in his opening act with the Badgers?
The freshman phenom—there is something about a first-year player making a difference in sports that get fans worked up. It provides hope for the future, solidifies a belief that this player belongs or surprises the masses by coming out of nowhere.
For the Wisconsin Badgers, there were a couple of freshmen that made their presence known last season, including wide receiver Jordan Fredrick, fullback Derek Watt, punter Drew Meyer and running back Melvin Gordon.
As much as those rookies contributed, nobody could have expected redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave to step into an absolute mess of a situation on offense and right the ship. Now, he is set up to be the starting quarterback in his sophomore season after battling back from a fractured clavicle suffered in late October last season.
While there could be and likely will be more than three freshmen that contribute during the 2013 season, it's these three that will have the biggest impact in fall practice.
It's difficult to be a four-year starter in college football, especially on the offensive line. It's a position that often requires plenty of bulking up and weight gain, and incoming freshmen are rarely at the necessary size—or technically sound enough—to contribute right away.
But a redshirt can help.
Dan Voltz has one of those, but his redshirt was more of a case of being blocked by 2013 first-round draft pick Travis Frederick last season. That's because Voltz came in as a 4-star recruit, per ESPN, with solid measurables: a height of 6'5" and a weight of 290 pounds.
These days, he is listed at 310 pounds and he has all but been penciled in as the opening week starter at center for the Badgers. It will be up to the redshirt freshman, who had never played center prior to college, to help Wisconsin avoid a drop-off as a result of Frederick's departure.
As one of Wisconsin's top recruits from two seasons ago, Voltz should be up to the task. And learning from a now-NFL center last year probably didn't hurt.
Just like Voltz last year, true freshman Sojourn Shelton took the opportunity to enroll early at Wisconsin, allowing him to take part in spring practice.
That decision could pay off in a big way.
Shelton is battling to join the No. 1 cornerback unit for the Badgers—a unit that lost its two starters from a season ago, Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie.
The logical choices to assume the openings were junior Peniel Jean and sophomore Darius Hillary, who spent most of last season in the nickel role. But Shelton, a 4-star recruit according to ESPN, caught on quickly during the spring, culminating in an impressive performance in the spring game.
Shelton spent a majority of the spring in the No. 2 cornerback grouping, but he has a chance to break through this fall as a nickel corner, if not a full-time role in the Wisconsin secondary. It will come down to how much weight he's been able to put on and how well he's able to perform in fall practice.
The Wisconsin defense is only losing one starter from its front seven, making it even more difficult for a freshman to break through. But don't tell Vince Biegel that. The redshirt freshman is making the move from inside to outside linebacker upon the Badgers' switch to a 3-4 defense.
Biegel, another 4-star recruit based off of ESPN's ratings, was forced to redshirt last season due to a foot injury. It probably wasn't the worst omen, as middle linebacker was and still is occupied by senior Chris Borland, who will now play alongside fellow senior Ethan Armstrong in the middle.
The task of starting next season becomes even more difficult for Biegel with senior defensive ends Brendan Kelly and Tyler Dippel moving to outside linebacker. There is also plenty of returning talent at linebacker to beat out.
So, why could Biegel still find his way onto the field next season?
He's plenty familiar with the linebacker position, and there is also the way he performed during the spring. Biegel can rush the passer, hold the outside in run support and drop back into coverage. At 6'3" and 230 pounds, his size is college-ready, despite him being just over a year removed from high school.
Biegel is one of the most talented and highly touted players on Wisconsin's roster, and now that he's healthy, he's showing everyone why.
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