10 College Football Freshmen Turning Heads in Fall Camp
Fall camp has kicked off, and I couldn't be more excited. Writing about recruiting is fine, but it's no substitute for the real thing, or even the fake-real thing (practice).
The start of fall camp means the arrival of the freshman class I covered extensively this spring. As word has leaked out, some of 2010's top recruits (and not-so-top recruits) wasted no time in angling for playing time, rotation-cracking, or maybe even the top spot.
Here are 10 freshmen I've heard about so far. Feel free to leave some names in the comments and I'll cover more of them as the month moves along.
Quinton Dunbar, WR (Florida)
Pick a recruit from Florida's 2010 class and they're likely making an impact somehow. Frosh QBs Trey Burton and Tyler Murphy are battling for the No. 2 job; defensive end Ronald Powell, Rivals' top 2010 prospect, is pushing for early playing time; safety Matt Elam looks positively Lynchian with his new hairdo.
I'm focusing on wide receiver Quinton Dunbar. Dunbar was not a terribly hyped recruit...just another four-star, Rivals top 150 player floating in the Gators' soup.
But Dunbar (Miami, FL/Booker T) stepped up and showed great hands and great talent in Florida's recent scrimmage, separating himself from the rest of the freshmen receivers in fall camp.
Will it be enough to earn a starting spot? Receiver is arguably the position the Gators will need the most help at. With four of Florida's top five pass catchers, including Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper, having gone on to the pros, Dunbar and fellow freshman Robert Clark intend to find out.
Devin Gardner, QB (Michigan)
It's the good news Michigan fans really didn't want to hear: five-star freshman quarterback Devin Gardner is performing so well that he's pushing sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier for snaps, and maybe the starting job.
Coach Rich Rodriguez fell short of proclaiming a starter or even a leader so far, only saying that one of the season's most-watched QB competitions is pretty equal.
The problem is, it shouldn't be. Ideally, Gardner would redshirt and get some needed work on his fundamentals while Robinson and Forcier battled it out for the top spot.
But Gardner, who enrolled early, is showing off his speed, impressive arm and pocket poise in drills. Meanwhile, Robinson has kept alive his spring mojo, while Forcier has battled some injuries and an offseason that concluded with a teammate questioning his participation in voluntary workouts.
More QB unrest is not what the doctor ordered for Michigan. Having talent and depth isn't a problem, it's getting that talent prepared for game time. Watch whom Rodriguez puts third when the reps get split 60/40 between the first and second string.
Jake Heaps, QB (BYU)
BYU fans won't be surprised to see freshman Jake Heaps' name on this list.
Heaps has colored nearly every article written about the Cougs' QB battle this summer since enrolling and battling junior Charles Nelson Reilly to a tie in the spring.
He was a five-star QB and the best at his position to Scout in the 2010 class. He was also Rivals' top pro-style QB. True freshmen starters at the QB position aren't entirely unheard of, but for a position as storied and high-pressure as BYU's QB, it would definitely be a first.
Still, most writers agree that, should Heaps tie Nelson for the position, he should get the nod merely for the sake of the playing time and the opportunity to grow.
Corey Lemonier, DE (Auburn)
Four-star defensive end Corey Lemonier was a decision-day commitment to the Auburn Tigers.
That should show how much the game of college football hinges on these decisions, as Lemonier has now been singled out as one of the hardest workers and fastest risers for Auburn this camp.
Gene Chizik got about as effusive as he gets in saying Lemonier is "going to push someone for a position," citing his hard work and maturity as a player.
Lemonier came in as physically ready as any of 2010's outstanding crop of defensive ends. Auburn's defense was its Achilles' heel last year, so hopefully Lemonier can do enough to bring balance to the Tigers in a wide-open SEC race.
Markeith Ambles, WR (USC)
USC's 2010 class was loaded with players capable of contributing early. With the loss of a few upperclassmen, the path to a starting job only got easier.
Early enrollee receiver Robert Woods owned spring ball, followed by Kyle Prater, who played well but battled injuries.
But the third member of that group, Markeith Ambles, has arguably been the most productive this fall. Ambles hauled in five receptions for 83 yards and a touchdown in a Saturday scrimmage.
Ambles is somewhere between Woods and Prater, a versatile receiver with above-average size and great speed. He's a true Z receiver, capable of doing a lot of different things, so I'm not surprised an offensive mind like Kiffin's (however legit it is) is intrigued with Ambles.
If I had to guess, I'd say he'll the be most productive of the three at year's end.
Dietrich Riley, CB (UCLA)
UCLA's fall camp has been a morbid affair, with multiple injuries suffered to key offensive and defensive linemen and the academic ineligibility of starting OG Jeff Baca.
One encouraging story line has been the play of freshman safety Dietrich Riley, who notched two interceptions while running with the Bruins' first-team defense in a scrimmage on Saturday.
Riley was not an early enrollee, but he was Rivals No. 9 safety in the 2010 class. I remember Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly driving cross-country to visit him leading up to signing day. USC and Cal were also in the mix.
UCLA coaches might consider pairing Riley up with Rahim Moore, the Bruins' All-Pac-10 safety who led the conference in picks as a freshman.
Demonte McAllister, DT (Florida State)
Full disclosure: Demonte McAllister is a redshirt freshman and not a true freshman like the rest of these players.
But I found his story interesting nonetheless. When presumed DT starter Moses McCray went down with an ACL tear early in Florida State's camp, dread over the Noles' soft interior line resumed. Many blamed FSU's extremely poor effort in 2009 to its undersized defensive line.
Redshirt frosh Demonte McAllister stepped in and immediately proved his worth as a former four-star, Rivals100 recruit. He notched "multiple tackles and a TFL" according to a Rivals insider, moving him onto the second-team and, by extension, into the DT rotation.
Florida State will have touted young performers all over the defense—linebacker Jeff Luc may have to step in for Nigel Carr, cornerback LaMarcus Joyner, the No. 2 corner in the class, will assist the embattled FSU secondary. And don't forget starter Greg Reid is just a sophomore.
But the defensive line is still where the defense lives and dies, and McAllister will be just as crucial for the long haul.
Connor Shaw, QB (South Carolina)
While five-star running back Marcus Lattimore has generated some buzz in South Carolina's fall camp, the more encouraging praise has been about freshman quarterback Connor Shaw.
The three-star prospect out of Flowery Branch, Georgia was Rivals' No. 13 dual-threat QB in the 2010 class.
Shaw led all Gamecocks quarterbacks with a 12-14, 150 yard, one touchdown performance in the Gamecocks' second summer scrimmage, good enough for some writers to say he has the It factor. By comparison, Stephen Garcia was 3-8 for 78 yards (albeit against the first-team defense).
Spurrier was his prickly self after the scrimmage, calling it "typical" and calling out the number of sacks the offensive line allowed, saying, "Neither side did anything spectacular."
It's way too soon to say Shaw will unseat Garcia for the starting spot. Call me the anti-Spurrier, but at least the Gamecocks have depth?
Robert Bolden, QB (Penn State)
Big Ten Network analyst Dave Revsine set off a wave of reactions when he tweeted from Penn State fall camp, "It would not surprise me one bit if Robert Bolden is PSU's starting QB—looks really good—poised, athletic, and has fantastic arm strength."
Joe Paterno spent most of spring laughing off the notion that he would start a true freshman over sophomores Kevin Newsome and walk-on Matt McGloin.
And frankly, I'm inclined to believe the head coach's opinion will pertain, no matter how ill or out of touch he may be. After all, it was Paterno who decided Anthony Morelli would lead the Nittany Lions over sophomore Darryl Clark in 2007.
But that's not to say Revsine is wrong. Bolden really is all those things. He's just too young, and PSU's coaching staff too conservative, to hope for anything better than the No. 2 spot.
Chase Rome, DT (Nebraska)
All eyes will be on the Nebraska defensive line as they try to replace 2010's most dynamic player, tackle Ndamukong Suh.
They might get a little help from a four-star freshman. Nebraska writers called out the quick rise of frosh Chase Rome in fall practice in a recent write-up of rising performers in camp.
Defensive tackles are not known historically a great position for true freshman to play. But Rome, the No. 30 defensive tackle in the 2010 class, was an early enrollee for the Huskers, so he's had a little more time in the system than most.
He's listed at 6'3", 280 lbs and, in my mind, has a good chance of cracking the rotation behind either Terrence Moore at nose or Jared Crick at DT.