As coaches mull redshirts, some Pac-12 true frosh thrive

Sep 19, 2017 - 11:07 PM To redshirt or not to redshirt? That is the question for Pac-12 coaches who must weigh necessity and talent with maturity and readiness in deciding the immediate future of rookie players. It's certainly not an exact science. "You never know how a kid is going to react the first time he's in a game," USC coach Clay Helton said. "He looks great at practice and then you get to the stadium. You can always tell with the freshmen — you go across in the huddle and you're like, 'Yep, that one's ready, that one's ready,' then the next one's got the deer-in-the-headlights look and you're like, 'Uh-oh, he may not be ready.'" Sometimes, lack of depth or injuries make those decisions no-brainers. But there are a lot of other factors that go into the process, as well. Arizona (2-1) is playing 17 true freshmen this season, most in the league and third-most among FBS teams. "At the first practice I meet with all of the freshmen and newcomers, and tell them not to assume they are redshirting. They are here to learn, but not to defer," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I talked to them a couple of weeks into camp and some of them already know they want to play, and some may not. There are still true freshmen that have not played yet that still have a chance to play. We're playing a bunch of them, I saw we play the third-most true freshmen in the country. By the end of the year we will probably have the most because we still have many that will play." Maturity is certainly an attribute of Colorado freshman kicker James Stefanou, who at 30 is the second-oldest player at the FBS level. The Australian former soccer player is 10 for 10 on PATs and he's made six of seven field goals for the Buffaloes (3-0). Seventh-ranked Washington has seven true freshmen who are making contributions: tight end Hunter Bryant, running back Salvon Ahmed and cornerback Elijah Molden. The Huskies added receiver Ty Jones to the mix last week in a 48-16 victory over Fresno State. Asked what goes into his decision, Washington coach Chris Petersen replied: "Can they help us win now? That's about it. "We think playing them is a good thing for those guys. Four or five years is such a long time — who knows what can happen in that time," he said. "So you've got to live in the moment. Even if they don't play a ton, the preparation from week to week moves them dramatically ahead in our opinion." A few of the other true freshmen getting attention around the league this season: STEPHEN CARR, USC: Carr has rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns this season, giving the fifth-ranked Trojans (3-0) a potent rushing combo along with junior Ronald Jones II, who has rushed for 322 yards and five scores. Last year at Summit High in Fontana, California, Carr ran for 2,123 yards on 233 carries with 31 TDs, plus caught 20 passes for 466 yards and five scores. Carr definitely did not have that deer-in-the-headlights look when he first took the field, Helton said. "I don't know if there was a kid out there that was having more fun on our team in the Western Michigan game, our first game, than Stephen Carr," Helton said. "He continues to do it. He continues to make the game look exactly like practice." JAYLON JOHNSON, Utah: Out of Fresno, California, Johnson is one of seven true freshmen who have played for the Utes (3-0) this season. Sitting behind starter Julian Blackmon on the depth chart at cornerback, he has four passes defended, including an interception. He also has four tackles. "Being athletic enough to play the position is one thing, but being smart enough to understand concepts and be able to pick up the different things we ask our corners to do is another," Utes defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said. DONAVAN TATE, Arizona: Another one of those already mature players, Tate is 27 years old. And he's probably one of the most intriguing players to play this season for the Wildcats. The third overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft by the San Diego Padres, Tate has spent the last six years in the minor leagues and last season was in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. His baseball career was marked by injuries and off-field issues. The son of former NFL running back Lars Tate, he has appeared in two games this season. Rodriguez has played three QBs behind starter Brandon Dawkins. "Before anybody asks about a controversy and all that, we try to get everybody ready to play, and whoever I feel gives us the best chance to win or succeed on that particular drive or series or half or game, that's what I go with," he said. "It's not really controversial, it's just having a feel for getting guys in the game." CONNOR WEDINGTON, Stanford: The receiver out of Washington leads the Cardinal with 10 catches for 119 yards this season. UCLA recruited Wedington, and faces him this weekend when Stanford (1-2) hosts the Bruins (2-1). UCLA coach Jim Mora praised the young receiver: "Love him. Great kid. Really becoming a great player in that offense." THOMAS GRAHAM Jr., Oregon: a cornerback out of Rancho Cucamonga, California, Graham has started the last two games for the 24th-ranked Ducks (3-0). He's got two interceptions and two pass breakups, and overall Oregon has seven interceptions through three games after just nine last season.






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