Unlike college basketball, where freshmen routinely come in and contribute right away, experience is often paramount in college football. Simply put, it’s hard for a first-year player to enter a program and make a difference instantly.
But every season, there are a few who are given a chance to play immediately, and Virginia football will be no different this year. One of the main reasons Coach Mike London has been successful on the recruiting trail since returning to Charlottesville in 2010 has been his promise of early playing time.
In 2011, players like cornerback Demetrious Nicholson, running back Kevin Parks and wide receiver Darius Jennings stepped to the forefront at various moments. Here’s a look at some of this year’s freshmen that could emulate them.
DE Eli Harold
Perhaps the most highly regarded recruit of the London era, Harold was the top high school player in the state of Virginia last year and could pay immediate dividends in the pass rush. London said last week at the ACC’s annual football kickoff that he planned to use Harold as a situational pass rusher, because “his athleticism can only help us.” Though Harold has been clocked in the 4.5-second range in the 40-yard-dash, London won’t ask him to do too much since Harold still must add strength to battle opposing offensive linemen on an every down basis. But the Cavaliers need to put more pressure on the quarterback than they did a year ago (20 sacks) with a secondary full of inexperienced players.
LB Kwontie Moore
With senior Steve Greer healthy again after missing the Chick fil-A Bowl with a knee injury, Virginia is relatively deep in its linebacking corps since only Aaron Talifaro is gone from last year’s starting group. But the 6-2, 243 pound Moore is a dynamic prospect with the speed to make plays in open space. London said he will give Moore a chance to prove he deserves some playing time early in training camp, and with Greer and weak side linebacker LaRoy Reynolds both set to graduate following the season, it might be wise to give Moore some snaps now.
Kicker Dylan Sims and punter Nick Conte
Considering special teams played a large role in Virginia’s Chick fil-A Bowl loss to Auburn, it’s no surprise London says the one thing keeping him up at night right now is the team’s lack of veterans in the kicking game heading into training camp. Redshirt freshman Ian Frye and sophomore Alec Vozenilek left spring practice atop the kicker and punter depth charts, respectively, but the competition remains open for freshmen like Sims and Conte. Both are preferred walk-ons from the state of Virginia and known for their strong legs.
“They’ll be given early opportunities to show what they can do,” London said. “The people running down on the coverage, we’ve got those guys. They’re a year older. It’s just how can we find those guys in the kicking game that can help us win that portion.”