Shaun Lewis. Kenny Stills. Michael Dyer.
The list of impact true freshmen goes on and on.
With signing day quickly approaching, it has become clear that several recruits who sign letters of intent on Feb. 2 will emerge as playmakers this September. The 85 scholarship limit has made it difficult to have quality, experienced depth in a college football program every season.
Nowhere is that trend more evident than in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State each owe a large portion of their 2010 success to the play of true freshmen.
Stills, OU's second leading receiver, and Tony Jefferson, the Big 12 co-defensive freshman of the year, were impact players from day one for the Sooners. Other true freshman like cornerback Aaron Colvin, running back Roy Finch and fullback Trey Millard provided quality depth.
“There were 29, all freshmen, and so we felt really good about them,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “We got to see a few of them in winter conditioning with four guys coming in early, you got to see there in spring ball that a few of them were really going to stick out.”
At OSU, Lewis earned Big 12 co-defensive player of the year honors by making game-changing plays in the Pokes' biggest games. Cornerbacks Devin Hedgepeth and Justin Gilbert along with running back Joseph Randle joined Lewis as key contributors. Several Cowboy true freshmen provided needed depth and played key roles on special teams.
“We really like this class,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said. “I like their attitude, I like their toughness, I like their speed and I think there's a good mixture of personalities. It's a good class.”
Gundy spoke of a change in his philosophy for redshirting players before the season. He now leans toward playing his freshmen immediately instead of redshirting them for various reasons, from helping them maintain their focus on academics to allowing them to play three full seasons before being eligible for the NFL Draft.
For example, if receiver Justin Blackmon, a redshirt sophomore, had elected to enter the NFL Draft, he would have played just two seasons at OSU after redshirting during his first year in Stillwater.
While the trend is obvious in Oklahoma, it's also occurring nationwide.
Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Auburn were among the nation's leaders in true freshmen played. And Auburn, with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at its disposal, rode on the shoulders of true freshman running back Michael Dyer on its game-winning drive in the BCS title game. After Oregon tied the score at 19, Dyer rushed for 57 yards on three carries to set up a game-winning field goal by Wes Byrum.
Don't expect the trend to change, not in the state of Oklahoma at least.
OU will bring in elite running back Brandon Williams and receiver Trey Metoyer, each of whom could bring added firepower to one of the nation's most explosive offenses.
OSU has a stable of pass-catching recruits set to boost the Cowboys receiving corps, including Mustang's David Glidden, who has been told to prepare to play immediately.
“With Bo Bowling leaving it opens up another spot, and they've talked to me about that,” Glidden said. “It's up for grabs, I couldn't be happier about that.
“I have a chance to come in and win a spot early.”