Ekwerekwu, Jackson get in, others wait

They expected to play, they just didn't know when. Brad Ekwerekwu and Xzavie Jackson got their first minutes Saturday, and in the process, lost their redshirts. But for other freshmen, this year is all about getting ready for the next.

It was only a little blocking, but for Brad Ekwerekwu, it was a monumental day.

Sure, it happened in the worst of games, but Ekwerekwu, a true freshman receiver, played in his first game as a Tiger against Kansas last Saturday.

Ekwerekwu had been listed at second on the depth chart behind Darius Outlaw all season, and many speculated he wouldn't play after not getting any playing time in routs against Ball State and Eastern Illinois. But coach Gary Pinkel's mantra that players play like they practice swayed Ekwerekwu's standing.

"I just saw he was doing a lot of great things in practice," Pinkel said. "He can run, he has size; a lot of it's maturity. We expect him to play more and more. We just saw him perform at a really high level there, so I felt he could help us win this year."

After the game, Ekwerewku said he always felt like he was going to get some kind of playing time this season.

"We had kind of touched on it in the week," he said. "They just wanted to get me in there, get some experience. I knew I had a good chance of playing today."

In the end, Ekwerewku appreciated the chance.

"It was a good experience overall," he said "Obviously, to get in a game for the first time is exciting. I just wish the outcome would be different."

Xzavie Jackson

Freshman defensive lineman Xzavie Jackson also received his first playing time, returning a week earlier than expected from a broken foot suffered in summer camp. But for the rest of the freshmen, this season will probably be only a chance to get stronger and gain some maturity as they redshirt.

But don't let the freshmen fool you. They'd rather be out on the field.

"It's tough," running back Marcus Woods said. "I feel like I could do something out there."

Scout team freshmen lift one more day a week than regular players, Pinkel said, so that they are in the best condition to play next season. In addition, it's their responsibility to get the starters ready to play.

"I use this year as a chance to develop, learn the plays, and learn the speed of the game," Woods said.

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories