Disclaimer: This is not an endorsement or betting advertisement by any means, sir, but you may find it interesting to try and pick which Tennessee football freshmen will play in the September 1 opener against Ball State.
Or play anytime in the 2022 season.
Which youth volunteers will make a big difference or help win a game? It doesn’t happen that often and there are 15 returning starters and improved depth, but this looks to be an exceptional group of newcomers.
“There are going to be some young guys that in the first week are going to play a ton of minutes,” Josh Heupel said. “Some young guys will continue to gain playing time as the season goes on. So, it’s a constant race to become the best you can be.”
Speed? Running back Dylan Sampson and wide receiver Squirrel White are possibilities on the kickoff return team.
When Len’Neth Whitehead suffered a season-ending injury, Justin Williams-Thomas’s chances increased as a power runner with additional potential to break a long run.
Assistant coach Mike Ekeler said the other day that linebackers Elijah Herring and Kalib Perry and safety Jourdan Thomas can help on special teams. There will be others.
Offensive line play can get tricky. Serious thinking is involved. Rare is the freshman who can be ready on time.
Addison Nichols, 6-5 and 318, projects as a future center. He is also practicing as a guard. That says versatility. He also says that the coaches see immediate possibilities if necessary.
Part of the reason freshmen don’t often contribute early is because they have to learn to be college players, to practice with a purpose. There was an example at Haslam Field a few days ago.
The defensive linemen were going through something called a ramp drill, stay low, fast feet. Tire West did well enough that very demanding coach Rodney Garner didn’t demand “do it again,” but the young tackle realized he could do better. He ran to the end of the line, waited until the front and repeated his performance.
Motivation, focus, intensity? All practices are recorded on video. West is likely to play.
Jayson Jenkins, 6-6 and 280, is a defensive end who can play tackle. That doubles his chances.
James Pearce and Joshua Josephs, four-star prospects at frontcourt, could have early opportunities to fill in the gaps.
Quarterback Tayven Jackson is a well-respected freshman, but he’s third on the depth chart. If he plays, it will be because of experience or injuries, God forbid.
The vacancies could affect wide receivers Kaleb Webb and Chas Nimrod and perhaps others.
In times past, freshman wide receivers and freshman running backs competed for top honors. In 1997, SEC freshman of the year Jamal Lewis had 232 carries for 1,364 yards. Kelley Washington (2001), former professional baseball player who never saw himself as a freshman but was eligible for football, caught 64 passes for 1,010 yards.
What a story Washington was. He proclaimed himself “The Future”.
Assistant coach Randy Sanders told him, in the present, that he was skewing plays because of how he lined up and to stop them. Washington did it again. Jason Witten threatened to spank her behind. Washington, wise beyond his years, wanted nothing to do with Witten.
Other first-year receivers who stood out? Stanley Morgan (1973), 22 receptions, 511 yards, four TDs; Justin Hunter (2010), Marquez North (2013).
Tight end Reggie Harper caught 30 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown. He was a freshman All-American.
Young running backs who made a difference, some by skill, some by necessity: Chuck Webb (1989), 1,236 yards on 209 carries; Aaron Hayden, 784 yards (and 99 as a receiver). James Stewart (1991) and Arian Foster (2005) made an impact.
As a freshman in ’89, Carl Pickens had 594 kick-return yards and a touchdown.
Linebacker AJ Johnson had 80 tackles. Bill Bates had 55 tackles as a strong safety. John Becksvoort kicked the extra point that put Notre Dame past. Jeff Hall scored 95 points as a rookie.
As a freshman in 2007, safety Eric Berry exceeded expectations with his exceptional flair for football and his penchant for outplaying ball carriers. Tackle Trey Smith marked great things to come. Michael Munoz made the difference. There were others.
Peyton Manning, the most prolific passer in Tennessee football history, became the No. 1 quarterback sooner than expected, following injuries to Jerry Colquitt and Todd Helton and the writing on the wall from Branndon Stewart.
Peyton played in 10 games as a freshman in 1994. He started eight. His rookie record was 7-1. He and the Vols were defeated by Alabama. All was not lost.
Tide quarterback Scott Hunter saw the same handwriting on the wall and said, “Wow, wow, this kid is going to be good.”
OK, some freshmen are better than others.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org