There was once a time that freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity football during their first year on campus. Even more recent than that, freshmen were all supposed to redshirt with the belief that they were unable to play at the collegiate level physically or mentally.
Well, 14 freshmen played in Oklahoma’s first game – eight true freshmen. The time when freshmen can’t compete with college juniors and seniors is long gone. Two of Oklahoma’s true freshmen even teamed together in the back field during the first quarter.
“More and more kids every year are showing up that way I think,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “They pay attention to nutrition at younger ages, and they’re training more at younger ages.”
Some come in ready to play immediately, like running back Samaje Perine who led the Sooners in rushing and already has a bit of an allure to him after his workout regimen hit the mainstream.
Some take a little work. Fullback Dimitri Flowers came to campus last spring a bit “softer” in the mid-section, but Stoops said he worked hard to distribute that to other spots on his body.
Or Jordan Thomas, who was athletically gifted and took to the playbook very quickly as he also tries to major in mechanical engineering.
Some really do need the redshirt.
“We take their training to another level, but again, they come in more prepared for it,” Stoops said.
Then, there are the surprises, like receiver Jeffery Mead.
Mead came in to camp at all of 175 pounds, and he still stands as skinny as he is tall. But he earned playing time late in Game 1 and seems poised for more.
“The closer we got to game week, Jeffery just shows up,” Stoops said. “He’s smooth for his size, and the quarterbacks like him so much because of the target that he is. We felt, through this whole year, that he’s a guy that’s going to get better and better. He’ll make a difference for us.”
A handful of redshirt freshman made appearances, and some made big plays.
K.J. Young had three catches and 41 yards while Matt Romar, Charles Walker and D.J. Ward all showed what the Sooners’ defensive line could be in the coming years. Receiver Jordan Smallwood and linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo also saw the field.
“If you feel like they’re in a position, and they’ve earned a position to contribute to us as a football team through the year,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said of the decision to play true freshmen. “As long as those guys continue to develop, then they are going to continue to earn more of a role. That’s why you’re playing those guys.”
Perine, Flowers, Thomas and Parker are all likely candidates to receive significant playing time the rest of the season, while Mead and Quick could make a significant impact in the conference season. Horky will be team's long snapper, and Alvarez likely won’t see the field unless an emergency situation arises.
All of them had the chance to experience a big-time college football game early in their careers.
“It is a big moment,” Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said. “It’s that first game jitters that they’ve been going through that I can relate to. They did a good job handling it.”