Opportunities Await Freshman Class

As senior laden and experienced as last year's Mountaineer football team was, it is that much greener this season. With a large graduating class, there are plenty of holes to fill on the two deep before the Mountaineers kick off against Syracuse on September 4.

Enter the largest recruiting class of the Rich Rodriguez era. With new blood coming into the program, and several stalwarts heading out the door, the time is now for youth to be served for the Mountaineers.

"We thought we would be (playing a lot of freshmen), because we were replacing a lot of guys and we signed a lot of really good players," said Rodriguez. "We've got a lot of freshmen getting reps now, particularly on defense, and maybe they can help us."

One position where freshmen will almost certainly see time is at running back. It was already the deepest position on offense heading into the season, what with a combined 1,000 yards coming back in the tandem of Jason Colson and Pernell Williams. The Mountaineers signed two excellent running backs with Jason Gwaltney and Steve Slaton. The stable mix of veterans and youth at running back will certainly be the focus of an offense geared towards running the football.

Another spot where freshmen could help out is in the defensive secondary.

"Quinton Andrews has really shown a lot. We'd like to redshirt him, but I don't know if we can. It looks right now like he's going to have an opportunity to play on defense, and on special teams. Charles Pugh is another defensive back that we've been impressed with so far. He can help us on special teams as well," said Rodriguez about his two young Floridians.

While some coaches may be hesitant about throwing true freshmen out on the field, Rodriguez has always stressed getting his best players on the field, no matter what their age is. Last season, a lack of depth was exposed on special teams, particularly when covering kicks and punts. Several freshmen will help out on special teams this year. There's kicker Pat McAfee, who looks to have a leg up (pun intended) on the place kicking job. Scott Kozlowski is in a battle with senior Phil Brady and McAfee for the job as starting punter. Elsewhere, freshmen like Andrews, Pugh, and Slaton will contribute to the coverage teams in hopes of alleviating the miscues from last season. Slaton and fellow freshman Jeremy Bruce also have the ability to return kicks, one of the holes left by departing Big East Special Teams Player of the Year Adam Jones.

While Rodriguez has named these particular freshmen as having a chance to make immediate impacts, they aren't the only newcomers who could see the field this year.

"We had some spots where they could help us. Obviously the running backs and the secondary guys will help, and we're still hoping one or two receivers can help us out," noted the fifth-year head coach. "Ryan Dawson is doing some pretty good things. He still has a chance to help us as a freshman. The only ones for sure that we'll probably redshirt are the lineman, and the quarterbacks. Everything else is still pretty open."

As the season draws closer, plenty of questions remain. Some may not be answered by the time the Mountaineers head into the world's largest un-air conditioned air conditioner on September 4. This much we do know: there will be plenty of freshmen donning the Blue and Gold on that Sunday afternoon, looking to make an immediate impact on Mountaineer football.

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