Part One covered the six least expected to play - in other words, most likely to redshirt in 2016. Part Two covered the next group - that group that’s just in-between those that may or may not play, depending on injuries, how quickly they pick up their responsibilities, how quickly they adjust to the speed of football at the BCS level, and the list goes on.
This last part, Part Three, is chock full of freshmen that should play - and play a lot. This is based on a handful of talking points, including what is needed, the available talent on hand, opportunity, etc… So here are the six freshmen we expect to see a lot of in 2016.
6. Taylor Rapp - The 5-foot-11, 196-pound Rapp is already on campus, so he already has a head start over most in his class. And it’s so tough to know how returning safeties Brandon Beaver and Trevor Walker will do after coming back from injury, so there’s an opportunity for Rapp to make his mark early. Budda Baker is the stalwart at the one safety spot, but who will pair up with him? Will it be Jojo Macintosh? Ezekiel Turner? Beaver? Walker? There’s options there, but Rapp for sure has a chance to work himself into at least an important special teams role, if not a role within the safety depth. It may not happen right away, but by the end of the season I expect Rapp to be a valuable contributor in at least one phase of play.
5. Levi Onwuzurike - At 6-foot-4 and 262 pounds, Onwuzurike is ready-made to play a bunch as a true freshman. He could play as an end, or even inside as a 3-technique in certain nickel and dime situations. His skills at the line of scrimmage are already well known; after all he was the Dallas Morning News’ All-Area Defensive Player of the Year, and you don’t get that kind of an award for being average. With his size and talent, Washington Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski will find a way to get him in one-on-one situations to get to the quarterback. It’s much easier for a frosh linemen to do damage on defense than it is on offense, and that’s why you don’t see too many true freshmen pressed into action along the OL. Guys like Trey Adams are the exception. But on defense? Onwuzurike can be just another cog in Kwiatkowski’s machine, a piece that can compliment the work done inside by players like Elijah Qualls, Vita Vea and Greg Gaines.
4. Aaron Fuller - In any other year, it would be great to be able to redshirt the 6-foot, 177-pound Fuller and allow him to get bigger, faster, and stronger for 2017 as a redshirt frosh. But losing seniors Jaydon Mickens and Marvin Hall means the freshmen are going to have to play, and more than that - they’ll need to be relied on. That’s where Fuller steps to the plate. He’s a coach’s son, and he’s about as productive a receiver as you’ll find. Fuller caught over 180 passes, 3000 yards and nearly 50 touchdowns while at Lovejoy High in Texas. That’s production. We’ll see if he can make the kind of impact needed to complement guys like John Ross, Dante Pettis, Brayden Lenius, and others. Washington will have some redshirt frosh available to them, but Fuller will definitely get his shot to impress this fall. With the numbers the way they are I just can’t see any way he redshirts, unless every single one of the redshirt frosh pans out and everyone stays 100 percent healthy.
3. Byron Murphy - Just like John Ross a few years back, Byron Murphy has that star quality in all three phases of football that just screams out playing time, regardless of where you stick him. He caught over 3000 yards’ worth of passes for 34 touchdowns his final two years at Saguaro High in Scottsdale, but was recruited by Washington to play defensive back because of his ball skills - skills noted by both Jimmy Lake and Chris Petersen as being some of the best they’ve ever seen. How do you keep a player like that off the field? You don’t. Like Ross, or Budda Baker, or Chico McClatcher - you find a way to get Murphy the ball in as many situations as you can. It wouldn’t shock me at all if Jonathan Smith creates a package to take advantage of Murphy’s immense talent. And the returners better have eyes in the backs of their heads, because Murphy will be eager to show what he can do in that department too.
2. Sean McGrew - In speaking about Kamari Pleasant Sunday, I laid out the scenario in which Pleasant could possibly earn some playing time taking over the role previously carved out by Dwayne Washington. With Washington gone and Deontae Cooper most likely headed elsewhere for a post-graduate year, spots in the running back room are opening up. And even though Sean McGrew is only 5-foot-7 and 173 pounds on a good day, he plays so much bigger than that when the ball is in his hands. It should have come as no surprise when McGrew revealed plans by Smith to include him in some Wildcat variations with fellow tailback Myles Gaskin. It’s evidence of Petersen’s philosophy to put playmakers in any position possible to make plays and create success for the team. And for anyone that saw McGrew play for St. John Bosco this past fall knows he can make plays - lots of them. You don’t get named the California Gatorade State Player of the Year otherwise. He ran for nearly 5800 yards and totaled 85 touchdowns during his prep career. Heck, he ran for 1850 yards on only 200 carries as a marked man his senior season - yet no one could stop him. Keith Bhonapha will work McGrew into the rotation the minute he steps on campus.
1. Van Soderberg - This is the one 100 percent no-brainer of the group because there's a spot wide open and waiting for Soderberg to arrive. He was offered a scholarship to be a four-year specialist, and it would be a major, major shock if he doesn’t end up being the full-time punter in the fall. He’s even coming in for spring to get a jump-start, which should simply reinforce his standing. True freshmen punt and kick all the time at the highest levels of college football, so this move will not come as a surprise to anyone. Like I said, the only surprise here would be if he has to redshirt for some reason. That would be a really bad situation, because then you’d be asking Tristan Vizcaino to kick off and punt - not an ideal role for him. At 5-foot-11 and 199 pounds, Soderberg is a good athlete for a specialist, so fakes are certainly in the cards too.