13 True Freshmen Who Will Make an Immediate Impact
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
In college football today, winning on the recruiting trail in February can pay immediate dividends in September.
For example, Alabama’s run to its second straight national title in 2012 was fueled, in large part, by the contributions of star freshmen Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon.
Several stars out of the 2013 recruiting class are already making their presence felt in fall camps across the country.
Which true freshmen have already created a significant buzz heading into the season?
*Players listed in alphabetical order. All stats courtesy of 247Sports.com.
Mackensie Alexander: CB, Clemson
Senior Year Stats: 51 tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 INT returns for TD, 2 forced fumbles
With Clemson losing three starters from its secondary, Dabo Swinney brought in six defensive backs in the Tigers' 2013 class.
None arrived with more fanfare than Immokalee, Fla., 5-star Mackensie Alexander, who was rated as the nation’s fourth-best corner in 2013, according to 247 Sports.
As JC Shurburtt of 247 Sports notes, Alexander prepared for the upcoming season by covering Tigers All-American wideout Sammy Watkins in the summer.
Considering the vacancies in the secondary, Shurburtt points out that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Alexander start in the season opener against Georgia.
Greg Bryant: RB, Notre Dame
Senior Year Stats: 1,500 rushing yards, 17 TDs
With the loss of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed the hole in his backfield by adding highly touted Florida products Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston in the latest Irish recruiting class.
The 5’11”, 200-pound Bryant steps into a crowded group of challengers. However, Kelly is committed to giving his freshman backs an opportunity to play, according to Matt Fortuna of ESPN.
Considering that the Irish have only one rusher with more than 50 career carries, Bryant figures to thrust himself into the competition to be the featured back in Kelly’s offense.
Su’a Cravens: S, USC
Junior Year Stats: 96 tackles, 11 sacks, 3 INT, 3 forced fumbles
Despite scholarship reductions limiting USC’s ability to take a full class, Lane Kiffin still managed to bring in a handful of elite talents in the Trojans' 2013 class.
Atop that list is 5-star safety and early enrollee Su’a Cravens.
According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Cravens has a chance to be in the starting lineup when the Trojans open up against Hawaii on Aug. 29.
The USA Today Defensive Player of the Year is a freakish athlete who has the combination of size, speed and playmaking ability to be an instant impact contributor for the Trojans.
Derrick Green: RB, Michigan
Senior Year Stats: 184 carries, 1,285 yards, 20 TD
Michigan running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Thomas Rawls struggled last season, and the pressure is on both backs to step up with incoming 5-star freshman back Derrick Green pushing them for carries in camp.
Count Wolverines running backs coach Fred Jackson as a believer that Green is going to live up to his billing as a blue-chip back, according to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com.
Green is a powerful runner with quick feet and the ability to get yards after the first hit, and those traits are likely to help him earn a spot in the Wolverines' backfield rotation.
Christian Hackenberg: QB, Penn State
Senior Year Stats: 156/291, 2,144 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs
The signature recruit of Bill O’Brien’s 2013 class, 5-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg has all the necessary tools to thrive at the college level.
The 6’4”, 220-pounder was billed by 247 Sports as the nation’s top signal-caller in the 2013 class.
Hackenberg is in a battle with JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson for the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback job, but he’s coming on strong as camp progresses, according to Sean Fitz of Lions247.
Regardless of whether Hackenberg starts the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31, he has already taken significant steps to validate that he is the quarterback of the future for Penn State.
Derrick Henry: RB, Alabama
Senior Year Stats: 462 carries, 4,261 yards rushing, 55 TDs
Alabama lost Eddie Lacy to the NFL draft, but Nick Saban brought in four of the nation’s top running backs in the 2013 class.
Leading the way is early enrollee and 5-star Derrick Henry, who is the nation’s all-time leading rusher in prep football, according to Mitch Stephens of MaxPreps.
The 6’3”, 238-pound Henry is a physically imposing rusher who has the frame to grind out tough yards in the SEC.
If Henry can win the backup role that new starter T.J. Yeldon held a year ago, he will take a huge step forward in following the path of the Tide’s recent standout rushers.
Carl Lawson: DE, Auburn
Senior Year Stats: 78 tackles, 44 tackles for loss, 27 sacks
New Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn may be known for his prowess as an offensive mind, but his ability to lure in 5-star defensive line prospects such as Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams helped him secure a top-flight class just months on the job.
The 6’2”, 258-pound Lawson was rated as the top weakside defensive end in the country by 247 Sports, and he’s impressed the Tigers' coaching staff in fall camp, according to Mike Marshall of Auburn Undercover.
According to cfbstats.com, Auburn finished 11th in the SEC last season with only 22 sacks. With Lawson’s ability to get after the quarterback, he’s likely to give the Tigers' pass rush a much-needed boost.
Tray Matthews: S, Georgia
Senior Year Stats: 51 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 2 blocked field goals, 2 tackles for loss
With Georgia losing three starters from the secondary, Mark Richt has some sizable holes to fill before the Bulldogs invade Clemson on Aug. 31.
Blue-chip signee Tray Matthews enrolled in January and created enough of a buzz in the spring to be atop the depth chart at free safety entering fall camp, according to Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Even though the 6’0”, 194-pound Matthews is banged up, he is in line to play a major role in the Bulldogs' secondary whenever he recovers.
Robert Nkemdiche: DE, Ole Miss
Junior Year Stats: 93 tackles, 36 tackles for loss,19 sacks
The nation’s top overall prospect from the 2013 class, Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche will attempt to make an impact similar to the one his brother, Rebels linebacker Denzel, made last season.
At 6’4”, 297 pounds, there’s no doubt that Nkemdiche is ready to physically compete in the nation’s toughest conference.
As Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger notes, Nkemdiche has come to camp with the right attitude and work ethic to be a force in his freshman season.
With Ole Miss a trendy pick to make some noise in the loaded SEC West, Nkemdiche is a rare talent who is capable of helping the Rebels' defense take the next step in becoming a dominant unit.
Marquez North: WR, Tennessee
Senior Year Stats: 45 carries, 682 yards, 18 rush TDs; 20 receptions, 322 yards, 7 receiving TDs
With Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson gone, new Volunteers head coach Butch Jones has a glaring need for playmakers at receiver.
As B/R’s Barrett Sallee points out, 4-star freshman wideout Marquez North has already caught Jones’ attention in a major way early in camp.
The 6’4”, 215-pound North has speed to burn, and his presence gives the Vols' offense a shot in the arm it desperately needs.
Ricky Seals-Jones: WR, Texas A&M
Junior Year Stats: 1,245 yards rushing, 15 rushing TDs
Texas A&M lost four receivers off last season’s dynamic offense, but Kevin Sumlin reloaded with six receivers in the 2013 recruiting class.
Ricky Seals-Jones, a 6’5”, 230-pound 5-star prospect, was the headliner among that group.
As James Sullivan of Gigem247 reports, Seals-Jones has been as good as advertised in fall camp.
Given his combination of size and speed, and the Aggies need at the receiver position, Seals-Jones could have a monster season if he continues to progress in camp.
DeMarcus Walker: DE, Florida State
Junior Year Stats: 14 sacks, 24 tackles for loss
Jimbo Fisher lost both Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine to the NFL draft, which means the Seminoles will have to replace 122 tackles and 24 sacks worth of production on their defensive line.
DeMarcus Walker, who flipped his commitment from Alabama to FSU just before enrolling in early January, is a 6’3”, 274-pounder who has the strength and speed off the edge to contribute immediately for the ‘Noles.
With the move to tight end by defensive end Giorgio Newberry, who was competing with senior Dan Hicks for the defensive end spot opposite Mario Edwards Jr., it appears that Fisher is counting on Walker to do just that.
Dontre Wilson: RB/WR, Ohio State
Senior Year Stats: 294 carries, 1,895 yards, 37 TDs; 37 receptions, 750 yards, 9 TDs
Urban Meyer has earned his reputation as an ace recruiter, and his late flip of running back Dontre Wilson, who was committed to Oregon, seems to already be paying dividends for the Buckeyes.
According to Dave Biddle of Bucknuts, Wilson has already shown flashes of his talents as a runner and receiver, and he could force the hand of the coaching staff to get him on the field this season.
Similar to how Meyer used Percy Harvin at Florida, Wilson is the type of playmaker who could be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.