Arizona Athletics

Rodriguez: ‘it’s kind of neat’ to see all these freshman play

It’s been 45 years since the NCAA allowed schools to make freshmen eligible to play football.

It’s not quite clear if it’s been this important since then for the Arizona football program.

But tough times call for extreme measures. A lot of wet-behind-the-ears players will be suited up and playing.

This season alone Arizona has 42 true freshmen on its roster with five of those on its current two-deep. There could be more down the road, given the possibility of injuries or improvement. What’s clear – and coach Rich Rodriguez hasn’t been shy about it – is the freshmen will have some sort of impact on this year’s Wildcats team.

Rich Rodriguez addresses the media on Monday. (Steve Rivera photo)

How did all this happen? There was a huge need for players given the circumstances of talent that had been here and was, well, needed to right the ship.

Emphasis on “need” Rodriguez said on Monday afternoon at his weekly press conference. UA played 13 true freshmen on Saturday, and 23 overall if you include redshirt freshmen.

“There are some really talented guys who are ready physically,” Rodriguez said. “All the freshmen who played Saturday night are physically advanced for true freshmen. And, mentally pretty sharp too. That’s why they were in there. Some more will play this year and we feel more will play at some point.”

But this is a story about true freshmen.

Four play on the defensive side on the ball with defensive end Tony Fields II, Kylan Wilbon, who had a sack, and Scottie Young, Jr., are starters. Colin Schooler is listed as a backup. Jalen Harris received good time, getting four tackles. Kurtis Brown picked up two tackles. All were productive, including Rhett Rodriguez (no more need for an introduction) who scored a late-game touchdown in a reserve role at quarterback.

One is kicker Lucas Havrisik, who added a new dimension on Saturday with nine touchbacks. He may be a look at doing extra points as well. He kicked UA’s final extra point in the 62-24 win against Northern Arizona.

In talking about Wilbon, Rodriguez said he’s strong and will get stronger when he learns more about being a Division I player.

“To be ready as quickly and Jalen and some of the young guys are it’s kind of neat,” Rodriguez said. “They will play more as the season goes on. We still need more on defense. We played a bunch on Saturday but will going forward, too.”

Forward begins again on Saturday night when Houston comes to town. What’s clear is there is no substitute for experience and the true freshman gained plenty against Northern Arizona.

“Everybody was excited to play but no one more so than the true freshmen,” Rodriguez said. “…I could tell they were a little bit nervous but if they weren’t nervous there’s something wrong with them. There’s some learning moments, teaching moments but that’s a really talented class.”

It’ll have to carry some of the load because, well, it has no choice. Arizona, the last two seasons, has been talent and depth-deprived. And don’t forget the plethora of redshirt freshmen who got into the game and had an impact.

So, again, as Rodriguez has said there’s talent there, it just happens to be young. When asked how many of the true freshmen come in thinking they will play right away, Rodriguez said “all of them.”

Then, reality sets in.

“There are certain positions, probably offensive line, the quarterback (and) defensive line where it’s more difficult mentally and physically to play,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t guarantee them they will play (right away) but we don’t recruit them to be backups. The expectations are that they will compete right away.”

Rodriguez said he remembered after the first practice he told the players that they were here to learn from the upperclassmen, but “you’re not here to defer to them.”

That said, no one is to take a second seat to anyone, he said.

Saturday proved that might not happen all season.

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