Talented freshmen earn playing time, contribute
Photos by Christopher Gooley(left) and Bill Allen(right) / S
Freshman running back Rashaun Grant (left) battles hard in the Jackets’ win against Duke. Freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson (right) makes a catch against the Terrapins in Tech’s win.
Every fall crops of highly recruited football players arrive at campuses across the country. With teams currently allowed only 85 scholarship players, a limit that came into existence in 1994, putting the best players on the field has led to a reliance on playing freshmen. This year Tech fields some of its best yet.
With the opportunity to play, freshmen have made it a priority to show up on campus ready to contribute immediately.
“I had my mind set on (playing right away),” freshman wide receiver Calvin Johnson said as reported by RamblinWreck.com. “During camp, I really concentrated on learning the plays and the system. After I got that down, it wasn’t too bad."
This season Tech has several freshmen players playing critical roles for the 4-2 Jackets. Johnson, the most hyped of the group, has shown flashes of greatness and leads Tech with 23 catches for 395 yards.
The 6'4” receiver from Tyrone, Ga. opened the season in the Jackets’ starting lineup and solidified his spot as a top receiver against Clemson, catching eight passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns, including the game winner.
Although extremely soft-spoken, Johnson’s actions on the field have spoken volumes about his confidence.
“I knew if they got it to me, I could catch it,” Johnson said regarding his game-winning catch against the Tigers.
With the success has come much more attention from opposing defenses for Johnson. Johnson recorded only seven receptions in the three games after his breakout performance against Clemson, but came back with a big performance against Duke.
“He’s getting better,” Head Coach Chan Gailey said. “He’s already very good, and he’s getting better every week. You think that a lot of people would try to do what Miami did, but [Duke] felt like they had to stop our running game, so they end up playing him one-on-one out there. He can go get it."
Johnson’s 92 yards receiving and pair of touchdowns against the Blue Devils earned the wideout ACC Rookie of the Week honors for the second time this season. Although Johnson gets the most notoriety of the current freshmen, he is not the only newcomer contributing to the Jackets.
Redshirt freshman running back Rashaun Grant has carried the ball 31 times for 144 yards on the season. Grant was particularly impressive in the season opener against Samford, when he received extended playing time and racked up 75 yards on 17 carries.
A pair of redshirt freshmen, Kevin Tuminello and Matt Rhodes have been key components to Tech’s offensive line. Tuminello has seen quite a bit of time at center, and Rhodes is currently at the top of the depth chart at the left guard position. The pair looks to anchor Tech’s line well into the future.
Although he has yet to take a snap, another freshman, who has caused quite a stir, is quarterback Taylor Bennett. The 6'3” left-hander from St. Louis, Mo. was elevated to the backup quarterback position before the Maryland game.
“We’re excited about his future, and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. We think he has an excellent future at the quarterback position,” Gailey said about the decision to elevate Bennett.
Freshmen have also made a considerable impact on the defensive side of the football, especially on the defensive line with redshirt freshman Adamm Oliver and true freshman Darryl Richard seeing considerable playing time.
Oliver, a defensive end, made an immediate impact this season when he filled in for Travis Parker in the starting lineup against Samford. In the game, he recovered a fumble and made four tackles. On the season, Oliver has recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Richard, a highly touted defensive line prospect from Louisiana, has also worked his way onto the field this year. The 6'4” 300-pound defensive tackle has recorded three tackles for loss and a sack in spot duty for the Jackets.
Redshirt freshman Travis Bell and freshman Kyle Belcher have been crucial in the kicking game with Bell handling the placekicking duties, connecting on six of seven field goal attempts and Belcher handling kickoffs.
Long gone are the days when players walk onto campus, are immediately redshirted and then serve an apprenticeship behind a veteran player, hoping to see the field by their junior year. At Tech, many freshmen have taken advantage of their opportunity to get on the field and are looking to be a solid foundation for the program’s future.