The (True) Freshmen Project

Wake Forest true freshman quarterback John Wolford looks to hand the ball off. (AP Photo)

You hear about it all the time after the first week of the college football season. Tennessee played 21 true freshmen, Virginia Tech had two true freshmen rush over 100 yards and USC had a kid play on both sides of the ball. It’s almost become a midweek measuring stick for fan bases in search of a moral victory.

But just how many of these true freshmen actually started Week 1? How many schools relied on the services of 18 and 19-year olds, who just months ago were in high school?

That number is 54.

54 true freshmen started on college football’s opening weekend for 37 different schools. Each on them has a different story but all of them have something in common.

New Mexico State, a program that went 0–12 last season, started four true freshmen, while USC— a college football blue blood —started three.

Two true freshmen quarterbacks debuted in Wake Forest’s John Wolford and Miami’s Brad Kaaya, but surprisingly five true freshmen started at right guard with three more starting at left tackle. The most common position was wide receiver, where 11 true freshmen were penciled in the lineup.

The SEC and PAC-12 tied for the conference with most true freshmen starters with eight. The Mountain West had just one.

Two high schools — Tarpoon Springs East Lake (Fl.) and St. John Bosco (Ca.) —each had a pair of true freshmen start at the next level. East Lake product Mason Cole played left tackle for Michigan, while cornerback Devin Abraham was in the lineup at USF. Wide receiver Shay Fields led the charge for St. John Bosco at Colorado with Damien Mama starting at right guard for USC. It’s not a coincidence that both high schools played for state titles last season.

Out of the 54 true freshman starters, only 10 got a head start on college and were mid-year enrollees. The rest arrived campus during the summer months, bringing into question, just how important is it for these guys to forgo their final months of high school?

The state of Florida had the most true freshmen starters with 12. Texas (10) and California (7) were close behind, which makes sense for the country’s top-three talent producing states.

If there is one position the online recruiting services appear to not have missed on—it’s safety. The top three safeties in the 247Sports composite rankings all started Week 1, along with a handful of others. No. 1 ranked Jabrill Peppers was in the nickel for Michigan, No. 2 Quin Blanding was at free safety for Virginia and No. 3 Juju Smith played wide receiver at USC. No. 15 Dravon Henry (West Virginia) and N0. 19 Armani Watts (Texas A&M) also started in the secondary, along with Washington’s Budda Baker — the No. 2 ranked athlete last cycle.

Here’s a school-by-school breakdown of the true freshman starters in Week 1 listed with the high schools they attended, and their 247Sports star rankings. There is also a Google Doc breaking down the players position by position.

Note: These are the starters listed in the official game participation reports. I didn’t include punters or place-kickers, because I believe that any scholarship guy should be starting all four years. I also didn’t include players who spent a year at a prep school or on an LDS mission trip — because let’s be honest, that doesn’t make them a “true” freshman. I’m sure I could have missed a player or two, but this is the product of scanning through 83 different box scores and 100 versions of game notes. Mistakes can happen, let me know if I made one. Drop me a line at [email protected] or on Twitter: @andrewrivins.

New Mexico State
RB Larry Rose III (Fairfield, Tx. — 2)
DT Stody Bradley (Bowie, Tx. — 2)
LB Derek Ibekwe (Lamar Consolidated, Tx. — 2)
LB Dalton Herrington (Hallettsville, Tx. — 2)

Southern California
WR JuJu Smith (Long Beach Poly, Ca.—5)
RG Damien Mama (St. John Bosco, Ca. — 4)
LG Toa Lovebdahn (La Habra, Ca. — 4)

DE Derek Barnett (Brentwood Academy, Tn.—4)
TE Ethan Wolf (Minster, Oh.—3)
RG Jashon Robertson (Montgomery Bell Academy, Tn.—3)

Appalachian State
WR Jaylan Barbour (Monroe, Nc.—3)
SS A.J. Howard (Harris County, Ga.—2)

Arizona State
LB DJ Calhoun (El Cerrito, Ca.—4)
DT Tashon Smallwood (Fresno C. East, Ca.—4)

Georgia State
RB Krysten Hammon (Dickinson, Tx.—2)
RG Alex Stoehr (North Gwinnett, Ga.—2)

NB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus Catholic, Nj.—5)
LT Mason Cole (East Lake, Fl.—4)

South Carolina
LB Bryson Allen-Williams (Cedar Grove, Ga.—4)
CB Al Harris Jr. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Fl—3)

South Florida
RB Marlon Mack (Sarasota Booker, Fl.—3)
CB Devin Abraham (East Lake, Fl.—3)

Southern Miss
RB Ito Smith (McGill Toolen, Al.—3)
HB Daythan Davis (Aledo, Tx.—2)

TE Trey Scott (McEachern, Ga.—2)
DE Daren Williams (East St. John, La.—2)

Wake Forest
QB John Wolford (Bishop Kenny, Fl.—3)
OC A’lique Terry (Hialeah, Fl.—3)

WR George Rushing (Cardinal Gibbons, Fl.—3)
SS Lubren Figaro (Everett, Ma.—3)

LT Cam Robinson (West Monroe, La.—5)

WR Shay Fields (St. John Bosco, Ca.—3)

Eastern Michigan
DT Jeremiah Harris (Bedford Senior, Mi.—2)

LT Reggie Bain (Miami Central, Fl.—2)

LB Anthony Wint (Miami Homestead, Fl.—2)

WR J-Shun Harris (Fisher, In.—2)

WR Trey Quinn (Barbe, La.—4)

QB Brad Kaaya (West Hills Chaminade, Ca.—4)

N.C. State
WR Bo Hines (Charlotte Christian, Nc.—4)

Northern Illinois
CB Albert Smalls (Miami Monsignor Pace, Fl.—2)

RG Jake Pruehs (Lakewood St. Edward, Oh.—2)

Old Dominion
WR Vincent Lowe (Grassfield Chesapeake, Va.—3)

FB Dimitri Flowers (San Antonio Churchill, Tx. —3)

LB Ja’Whan Bentley (Dematha Catholic, Md.—3)

RG Evan Brown (Southlake Carroll, Tx.—3)

WR Steve Ishamel (N. Miami Beach, Fl.—3)

Texas A&M
FS Armani Watts (North Forney, Tx.—4)

Texas Tech
CB Tevin Madison (Fayette County, Al.—3)

LG Najee Toran (Houtson North Shore, Tx.—3)

WR Devonte Boyd (Henderson Basic, Nv.—2)

FS Quin Blanding (Va. Beach Bayside, Va.—5)

Virginia Tech
WR Isaiah Ford (Trinity Christian, Fl.—3)

SS Budda Baker (Bellevue, Wa.—4)

West Virginia
FS Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa.—4