Freshmen hoping to make a big splash
By Nicholas DeLorenzo, Associate College Football Editor
Sports Network (Philadelphia, PA) - With college football rosters exceeding 100 players and with intricate playbooks and schemes to learn, it's rare for a true freshman to make a significant impact right out of the chute.
But for a handful of blue-chip prospects, high expectations have been set around campus for a lasting legacy starting as soon as this fall.
Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas - As the reigning Gatorade National Player of the Year, Gray had a historic senior season at Aledo High School in Aledo, Texas, rushing for an astounding 3,891 yards and 65 touchdowns. In the process, he broke the all-time career high school touchdown record with 205. His incredible career in one of the most competitive high school football divisions in the country made him the No. 1 running back prospect by numerous scouting agencies. The Longhorns had an impressive freshman rusher in 2011 as well in Malcolm Brown (742 yards, five TDs), but a player of Gray's talent is sure to garner plenty of carries from the outset this season, and he may very well become UT's every-down back sooner rather than later.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri - Freak athletes like Green-Beckham don't come around very often, and the 6-6, 220-pound monster is already earning comparisons to the likes of Calvin Johnson without having played a single down of college football. Though he has a long way to go to live up to that hype, Green-Beckham certainly has done his part so far, becoming the nation's all- time high school receiving yards leader after finishing his senior season with 119 receptions, 2,233 yards, and 24 touchdowns. The Sporting News High School Athlete of the Year will be a welcomed addition to Missouri quarterback James Franklin's receiving corps, and he is bound to wreak havoc on SEC secondaries this season and for years to come.
Ondre Pipkins, DT, Michigan - With more teams implementing a defensive line rotation to keep players fresh, it's easier for first-year players to make an impact in the trenches, especially for someone as gifted as Pipkins. At 6-3, 320 pounds, he isn't just a space-eater at the tackle position. He is quick off the ball and can hit his gaps -- making him a force to be reckoned with in both the run and the pass game. With Pipkins' skill set, he is bound to draw double teams from opposing offensive lines, which will only help free up his teammates to make plays.
Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland - Perhaps the biggest recruiting upset for this coming season came when Diggs chose his home state Maryland Terrapins over powerhouses like Auburn, Florida and Ohio State. An incredible athlete, the 6-1, 185-pound playmaker made a huge impact as defensive back in high school, winning All-State Defensive Player of the Year honors, but Diggs was brought in for his prowess as a receiver, as he finished his senior season with 770 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Diggs should see the field from day one on a team that struggled offensively last season, as the Terps didn't have a receiver with more than 45 catches or 600 yards, making him the instant number one target in College Park.
Landon Collins, S, Alabama - After losing Mark Barron, the nation's top safety in 2011, Alabama wasted no time filling the gaping hole in its secondary by landing the top safety recruit in Collins. The well-rounded safety is exactly the type of player the Crimson Tide need to replace their departed All- American, as Collins is equally productive making a hit at the line of scrimmage as he is in pass coverage. Even if he doesn't earn the starting gig following training camp, Collins certainly has the talent and work ethic to make his presence felt in 2012.
Wes Lunt, QB, Oklahoma State - Lunt may not have been the most high-profile quarterback signee for the 2012 campaign, but Oklahoma State has been more than pleased with what it has seen from the signal-caller in early camps, having already named him the team's starter and the heir-apparent to Brandon Weedon. Lunt has a lot on his plate in leading the reigning Big 12 champs this year, but after throwing for a combined 6,100 yards the last two years while leading his high school team to a pair of Illinois Class AAAA state titles, he appears to be up for the challenge.
Rushel Shell, RB, Pittsburgh - As one of the top running back recruits in the nation, Shell received offers from top programs like Alabama, Florida and Oregon, but opted to stay closer to home by signing with Pittsburgh. He finished his high school career as the leading rusher in Pennsylvania state history and set a new national record by rushing for 100 yards or more in 39 consecutive games. The Panthers already have one of the nation's best backs in Ray Graham, but it remains to be seen how he will bounce back after suffering a serious knee injury last season. Regardless of Graham's status, Shell should see enough of the field to make an immediate impact.
Tracy Howard, CB, Miami-Florida - At just 5-11 and 175 pounds, Howard was not the biggest or most athletic cornerback recruit, but when it comes to flat-out cover skills, few compare to the Miramar High School product. As a versatile defender in coverage and a very physical player for his size, Howard should be making big plays in the Hurricane defensive backfield as a starter from game one.
D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida - The Gators' road back to being a national juggernaut is something that may take a couple of productive off-seasons to accomplish, but getting the best offensive tackle prospect to help anchor your line and protect your quarterback is a terrific start. This 6-5 behemoth already weights 270 pounds as an 18-year old, is solid in both the run and pass game (he didn't allow a sack in his high school career) and will be expected to start from the first game this season.
Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon - At a mountainous 6-8, 295 pounds, Armstead was a man among boys in high school as a two-way player. Many programs viewed him as a cornerstone left tackle prospect, but Oregon is taking its chances with the five-star recruit along the defensive line. Armstead's freakish athleticism should translate to plenty of playing time in the early going, and if all goes according to plan, he has a chance to become the Ducks' most imposing defensive lineman since Haloti Ngata.
06/13 10:24:02 ET