Few things excite fans more than seeing a true freshman hit the field in his first year on campus. They continue to ride the recruiting train hype while their classmates that redshirt become extinct for 12 months.
Kirk Ferentz hasn't always been willing to throw his newcomers into the fire, often instead turning to seasoned veterans. That pattern veered way off the typical track in 2007, when the Iowa coach used 11 true freshmen, the most in his nine seasons at the school.
Most of the first-year guys that saw time last year did so mostly on special teams and in backup duty. Offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga battled injuries, but started when healthy. Christian Ballard and Jacody Coleman played significant snaps on defense, and Colin Sandeman found himself in the receiver rotation when he was healthy.
Ferentz has received some major contributions from true freshmen in the past. Bob Sanders and Nate Kaeding hit the ground running in '00. A.J. Edds, a junior, performed very admirably as a first-year player in '06.
This current incoming class likely won't see 11 players in action in Year 1, but there seems to be good chance that several of them could make immediate contributions. Let's take a look at who might play a role on '08 (ranked in order of most likely to make impact):
Trent Mossbrucker (Kicker): Among the most inconsistent pieces of a very inconsistent puzzle for the '07 Hawkeyes was the place kicking game. It got to the point at the end of the season where Ferentz would go for it on fourth down (which we know isn't a staple of this offensive attack) instead of trying a pretty average field goal attempt.
Enter Mossbrucker, the third kicker in the Ferentz Era to be rewarded a scholarship. Kaeding and Kyle Schlicher were the others, and neither sat behind any non-scholarship competition.
I'm not sitting here saying Mossbrucker is a lock to come in and start from the jump, but it won't surprise me if he earns the gig in short order. His presence could inspire and motivate holdovers Daniel Murray and Austin Signor, but I'm thinking it goes the other way.
In speaking to Mossbrucker, he has that confident edge to him that stood out in Kaeding and Schlicher (and Rob Houghtlin). The Indiana native also comes to Iowa having played quarterback and lettering four times in basketball, in addition to being his senior class president.
Mossbrucker has the right makeup and a very strong leg. He's my pick to have the biggest impact among the true freshmen.
Jeff Brinson (RB): Something tells me that this kid is going to take this opening and run (pun intended) with it. To me, he's the most intriguing of the running back prospects.
I know. I know. Shonn Greene is already acclimated to the system. But he enters camp not having played football in a year and a half while Brinson has been carving up defenses in the very competitive world of Florida prep football.
Nate Guillory (5-10, 180) also figures into this mix but must first show the ability to block. At 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, Brinson boasts the size advantage.
DeMarco Paine (CB): Running back and cornerback were hit hard by graduation and seem like the most likely places to experience an impact from a true freshman. Paine is a very gifted athlete that excelled at both positions – in addition to receiver – as a Saint Louis prep, but he'll play defense in college.
Paine has the size and speed that reminds me of Charles Godfrey and he fits well into the Cover-2. If Iowa continues to play more nickel and dime, as it showed last season, Paine could get opportunities.
What makes Paine an even more likely prospect to see the field early is his desire to also play receiver. He probably wouldn't get a lot of reps there, if any, but could be tutored in certain packages and definitely help on special teams.
Shaun Prater (CB): As hard as Nebraska tried, it couldn't sway this Omaha native from his commitment to the Hawkeyes. And Prater knew he had a heck of a chance to make an immediate contribution in Iowa City.
Like Paine, Prater stood out playing both ways in high school. He also was very successful on the track.
I rank Prater a tick below Paine, but I think both could play right away at a thin, inexperienced position for Iowa. They both have played corner a lot and have the tools.
Jewel Hampton (RB): One of the most productive prep backs to ever pick the Hawkeyes, the only reason I rate Hampton a notch below Brinson is the competition they faced in high school. Indiana football is not Florida football.
That said, Hampton offers good size and a lot of intangibles. He also becomes a Hawkeye after winning three state titles as a prep.
William Lowe (CB) Lowe is an interesting prospect, who comes from the successful Glenville program in Cleveland.
It certainly wouldn't surprise me to see him emerge at corner, but he's not as seasoned at that position as are Paine and Prater. And I don't see the coaches pulling redshirts off of three CBs with Amari Spievey coming back.
Likely Redshirts: Steve Bigach, David Blackwell, Greg Castillo, James Ferentz, Joe Gaglione, Jonathan Gimm, J.D. Griggs, Brad Herman, Shane Prater, Jason Semmes, Khalif Staten, James Vandenberg and John Wienke.
-Writer's Note: I didn't include junior college players. This was just for true freshmen making an impact. I suspect Greene, Spievey and Guillory all will see reps.