I’m typing this on the Saturday that Hurricane Irene is hitting the east coast. I can’t get that song by The Scorpions about rocking you like a hurricane out of my head. I can’t stand that guy’s vocals so it doesn’t put me in a happy place of mind. And of course, now I’ve got that “Winds of Change” song in my head. Why are their two most popular songs about wind?
But we move on from there, hoping this Adam Carolla podcast gets my mind off bad music. There are three more topics of Old Dominion football that I want to address, and today we’ll review one of them – the impact that Monarch newcomers will have on the 2011 season. For our purposes “newcomer” includes players who have yet to play a down for ODU; this includes JUCO transfers, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen.
We’ll break it down by position, and we’re focusing only on those expected to make a positive impact from Day One. If we see Nate Ong and/or Taylor Heinicke, it means that something happened to DeMarco. We’re hoping that DeMarco plays every snap this season, save those that come at the end of a blowout.
One JUCO transfer gives the Monarch OL a boost this season. Redshirt sophomore David Born had won the starting left guard position at the end of summer camp. The 6-8, 340-pound lineman comes to ODU after one season at Bakersfield College. Despite getting interest from lower-level FBS program, Born has been with the team since spring camp, so he’s gotten several months of work with the program.
Prior to the start of camp, there was talk that true freshman Josh Mann of Virginia Beach would redshirt this season and compete for the starting center position in 2012. However, he’s been so productive that he will get playing time this season at right guard. He’s pushed last year’s starting guard/center Brandon Carr for playing time, and the coaches will platoon the two at that position.
The season-ending injury to Mario Crawford means more playing time for redshirt freshman Angus Harper. The young man from Alexandria injured his knee as a true freshman in camp and missed the 2010 season. Due to injuries to Crawford and sophomore Colby Goodwyn, Harper got most of the reps with the first team offense. BCS programs Pitt and BC offered Harper scholarships to play safety, but he chose ODU because he wanted to play running back. This season, Harper gets his chance to show his stuff.
The injury to Crawford also impacts the wide receiver position. Redshirt freshman Antonio Vaughan has been spectacular in camp so far at WR. Nevertheless, he may be forced to play some RB during the season. In high school he played quarterback in an option-style offense, so he’s no stranger to taking the ball behind the line of scrimmage. Regardless of where he plays, Vaughan will do good things with the ball in his hands.
Another receiver who will have an instant impact is Blair Roberts. At 6-2, the true freshman is the tallest receiver on the team. During the spring signing period, Roberts picked ODU over offers from Temple and Buffalo, and there has been buzz about his play during the summer camp. With the indefinite suspension of redshirt junior Nick Mayers, Roberts has an opportunity to get into the lineup and be productive.
With the loss of Andrew Turner for the season, the defensive line does not have much proven depth behind the starters. Look for two redshirt freshmen to get several chances to prove themselves. Defensive tackle Jagger Blehm is a kid who played only one year in Green Run High School in Virginia Beach after playing previously at a small school in North Carolina. He was starting to get looks from several schools at Green Run but it was late in the recruiting process for those bigger colleges; thankfully the Monarchs had a scholarship available and he signed on with us.
The other redshirt freshmen expected to help the DL is Dominique Guinn-Bailey, a defensive tackle from Churchland High School in Portsmouth. The 6-4 tackle added 40 pounds to his frame since high school and is now at 265 pounds. He made Second Team All-Tidewater his senior season at Churchland and should make significant contributions. And isn’t “Guinn-Bailey” just a badass name?
The two-deep at safety position is set, but keep an eye on true freshman Neal-Anthony Hale. The walk-on from Maury High School in Norfolk has been among the hardest hitters in camp. He is the shortest safety on the roster listed at 5-9, but he’s a player who was missed by other coaches because he didn’t meet the height/weight measurements that blind some coaches.
One cornerback position is locked down by redshirt junior TJ Cowart, based on his play the last two years. There was a fierce battle for the other starting CB position, and Rich Radford reports that redshirt freshman Eriq Lewis appears to have won the competition. The DC product has beaten out sophomore Aaron Evans and redshirt sophomore Markell Wilkins, who started in 2009 but missed 2010 with an injury. Coach Wilder has been impressed with all three of these players, so it sounds like he’s confident with all of them on the field.
In addition to Lewis, Evans and Wilkins, don’t be surprised to see true freshman Reggie Owens making plays this season as well. Before his senior season Owens committed to play at Duke University. The relationship went south and he chose to come to Old Dominion. It’s hard to keep BCS-level athleticism off the field.
The punter and placekicker positions are set with Jonathan Plisco and Jarod Brown, respectively. The man responsible for snapping them the ball (not on kickoffs, obviously) will be true freshman Rick Lovato. From Middletown, NJ, Lovato will have to replace All-American long snapper Dustin Phillips. Similarly to other offensive linemen, it’s a good thing when you don’t hear the long snapper’s name – it means he’s doing his job and doesn’t get noticed for it. When you DO hear the snapper’s name, it’s because the snap failed to reach its intended target. The only time Phillips was mentioned was when he was named to the All-American team.
With only three recruiting classes heading into the 2010, the Monarchs had to rely on underclassmen and JUCO transfers the past two seasons. The current class of true freshmen is only the fourth class, so even they are expected to make immediate contributions. It appears Coach Wilder is bringing in kids with talent, but we won’t know how well they fare in the CAA until the season begins. They should be able to lean on the upperclassmen while they learn the ropes themselves, which the upperclassmen themselves could not have done the last two years.