Posted: Friday August 26, 2011 12:17PM ; Updated: Friday August 26, 2011 12:17PM
Andy Staples
Andy Staples>INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The Freshman 15: First-years who will make an instant impact

Story Highlights

Jadeveon Clowney could make the already stacked Gamecocks even better

Texas' Malcolm Brown and Georgia's Isaiah Crowell will carry the loads

Clemson on WR Sammy Watkins: "You can't compare any freshmen to him"

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Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney can improve an already loaded South Carolina defense by providing a blazing pass rush.
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney can improve an already loaded South Carolina defense by providing a blazing pass rush.
David Allio/Icon SMI

Nearly every recruit who signs with a big-time program gets treated like royalty during his courtship. But by August of their freshman year, reality sets in for most of those players, who will probably need a year or two before they're physically ready to contribute. Still, a select few come to campus ready to contribute immediately.

This Freshman 15 is part of that group. For them, there will be no adjustment period. When the lights come on next week, they'll be expected to produce.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Clowney certainly is the most hyped recruit to come to South Carolina, but the good news is the Gamecocks have enough talent that the 6-foot-6, 254-pounder won't be under pressure to become a star immediately. From tailback Marcus Lattimore to receiver Alshon Jeffery to fellow defensive end Devin Taylor, South Carolina already has plenty of stars. If Clowney can provide a blazing pass-rushing complement to Taylor, then he can improve an already impressive team.

In his first few weeks of practice, Clowney impressed teammates and coaches with his speed off the edge. A sprained ankle has sidelined Clowney the past few days, but Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier has said he expects Clowney to be able to play in the season opener against East Carolina. Meanwhile, defensive line coach Brad Lawing said Clowney came to Columbia humble and coachable, and he said Clowney's physical gifts are as good as advertised. "He has tremendous acceleration," Lawing told reporters earlier this week. "When he mentally sees what he needs to see, he can really accelerate to the football. I haven't taught him that. That's God-given. That's mama and daddy right there."

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

In a radio interview discussing his transfer to Baylor, former Oregon tailback Lache Seastrunk credited God with inspiring him to seek a different school. A higher power may have played a role, but so did a tiny freshman speedster from Crenshaw High in Los Angeles. Thomas, whose high school is three miles from USC's campus, had planned to become a Trojan before he made an eleventh-hour switch to Oregon. It appears he made the correct decision. While Oregon already has a pair of excellent backs in LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, the 5-9, 179-pound Thomas has been too good in camp to keep off the field.

Even more terrifying for Oregon's opponents: Thomas isn't the only good freshman back in Eugene. Tra Carson, a 227-pounder from James' alma mater in Texarkana, Texas, could provide a beefy counterpunch to James, Barner and Thomas. "I don't remember having any two guys who caught on faster than those two young men have," running backs coach Gary Campbell told The (Portland) Oregonian. "They've both been very impressive."

Aaron Lynch, DE, Notre Dame

One of Notre Dame's biggest problems in recent years has been a lack of elite athletes on defense. That began to change when former coach Charlie Weis convinced linebacker Manti Te'o to come to South Bend, and the Fighting Irish should be even deeper after the haul coach Brian Kelly reeled in this past winter. The most physically imposing is 6-6, 295-pound defensive end Stephon Tuitt, but Lynch might be the best pure athlete. A 6-6, 265-pounder from Cape Coral, Fla., Lynch might not be ready to jump into a starting role right away, but he should contribute early and only get better. "There's never going to be a debate about his physical ability," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told The Chicago Tribune. "If he can continue to come to practice professionally, locked in every single day, he's going to help us this year."

Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

In keeping with their top-secret theme, Texas coaches haven't revealed much about Brown to indicate how much early playing time he might have earned. In fact, coaches have been careful to say very little that would allow any differentiation between Brown, fellow freshman Joe Bergeron and veteran Fozzy Whittaker. We probably won't know much more until the Longhorns debut against Rice. But the eyes of Texas -- or at least the eyes of the Texans whose cable providers have agreed to carry the Longhorn Network -- will be on the 217-pounder from Cibolo, Texas. Why? Just watch this high school highlight video.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

Quarterback Braxton Miller was supposed to learn behind Terrelle Pryor, but Ohio State's turbulent offseason changed that.
Quarterback Braxton Miller was supposed to learn behind Terrelle Pryor, but Ohio State's turbulent offseason changed that.
Scott Stuart/ZUMAPRESS

Miller expected to come to Columbus and learn behind Terrelle Pryor, but a turbulent offseason has changed that plan. Thursday, Buckeyes coach Luke Fickell said Miller remained in competition with senior Joe Bauserman for the starting job. If Fickell's trip down memory lane is any indication, Miller can expect to see quality playing time in the season opener against Akron. "You can look back to '96 when I was here. Our senior year, we had a two-quarterback system, and it worked," Fickell said of Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine when he addressed reporters after Thursday's practice. "Whatever fits the team. You've got to give guys opportunity to see what they'll do in front of 106,000, and how they accept that responsibility."

Isaiah Crowell, RB, Georgia

On National Signing Day, it seemed Texas' Brown would face the most pressure to perform, but as the offseason wore on it became apparent Crowell might have to shoulder a bigger burden than any freshman in the nation. In May, Washaun Ealey left the team. In July, Caleb King was ruled academically ineligible. Suddenly, a logjam had loosened and become a gaping hole. With junior Carlton Thomas suspended for the opener against Boise State, it's entirely possible coach Mark Richt's Signing Day prophecy about Crowell -- who announced his college choice by holding up a bulldog puppy -- will come true next week. "I wouldn't be shocked," Richt said in February, "to see him running that rock in the dome against Boise State on the opening play if he does what he's supposed to do."

Tre Mason, RB, Auburn

Mason's father is Vincent Mason, better known as DJ Maseo of De La Soul, a pioneering hip-hop group that has inspired musicians for more than two decades. So the rest of this paragraph will only make sense if read to the tune of the final verse of Me, Myself and I. War Damn Eagle, Hallelu/Dyer and McCalebb, one and two/But Mason has replied and opened Malzahn's eyes/Backers try to diss his person, but he just blows right past/We know this when we point at Chizik and he states "Fast is fast."

Jamal Turner, WR/QB, Nebraska

Turner, from Arlington, Texas, came to Lincoln as a quarterback, but coaches quickly realized they needed to get him on the field even if he isn't taking snaps. Nebraska's spring game only reinforced that. Turner accounted for 228 yards on only seven touches. Turner began preseason camp splitting time at quarterback and receiver, but lately he has spent all his time with the receivers.

Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU

It's safe to say no one picked on Johnson for singing in the choir at O. Perry Walker High in New Orleans. At 6-3 and 295 pounds, he already has the size he needs to contribute immediately. He also has the motor. "This guy comes in and goes against the ones, and it looks like he's been playing in the SEC for a long time," fellow defensive tackle Michael Brockers told The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune. "He's strong, fast, quick, and he doesn't look as heavy as he is." Johnson can still belt out a tune as well. At LSU's media day, he serenaded reporters with Amazing Grace.

Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State

Tight end Nick O'Leary has earned the nickname 'Throwback' because of his naked hands and old-school playing style.
Tight end Nick O'Leary has earned the nickname 'Throwback' because of his naked hands and old-school playing style.
Drew Angerer/ZUMAPRESS

What will Nike do if O'Leary becomes a star? Never will O'Leary catch a touchdown pass and then tent his fingers to show a school logo on the palms of his gloves. O'Leary doesn't wear gloves. The naked hands and a playing style that would look ideal in a leather helmet with no facemask have earned O'Leary a nickname from his teammates and coaches: Throwback. O'Leary, the grandson of golfer Jack Nicklaus, is a matchup nightmare for defenses in the passing game, but he's also a nasty, physical player who doesn't mind blocking. With fellow freshman Timmy Jernigan also wreaking havoc at defensive tackle, FSU's class of 2011 could make a huge impact early.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

Sure, the Badgers have two established backs in James White and Montee Ball, but no team can ever have enough depth at a position that absorbs more physical punishment than any other. Just as White emerged from behind John Clay's formidable shadow last season, Gordon may find a way to contribute. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, the speedy Gordon is best when getting the ball in space, but he can run between the tackles as well.

Nick Brassell, WR/CB, Ole Miss

Brassell practices with the receivers and the cornerbacks every day, and at this point Ole Miss coaches have no intention of choosing one position as a focus. The speedster from Batesville, Miss., could play each position in some capacity when the Rebels open against BYU. On top of that, he also may return punts and kickoffs.

Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida

The Gators had hoped cornerback would be their most experienced position group on defense. But in April, coach Will Muschamp tossed senior Janoris Jenkins off the team after Jenkins' second marijuana-related arrest in three months. That opened up an opportunity for Roberson, who wasted no time in taking advantage. Roberson hasn't locked down the starting job quite yet, but he has impressed Muschamp, and he could wind up starting the season opener. "We're going to play the best players," Muschamp said earlier this month of Roberson. "I don't care what grade they are or where they're from. It don't matter to me."

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Bridgewater was listed as the backup when Louisville released its depth chart earlier this week, but the former Miami Northwestern High star should get a chance to continue his competition with junior Will Stein during the season. If Bridgewater does earn more playing time, he'll fit right in. Louisville has 21 redshirt and true freshmen listed on its two-deep depth chart.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

Watkins needed three practices to win a starting job, and the 6-1, 200-pounder from Fort Myers, Fla., already has his coach predicting stardom. "You can't compare any freshmen to him. I've never had a freshman like him. I really haven't," Swinney told reporters this week. "I've had a lot of good players, been around a lot of really talented freshmen at Alabama and here, but never really one quite like him, as far as the whole package, the day he walked on this campus." Swinney said Watkins makes so few mistakes that coaches can spend more time working with the Tigers' other freshmen. "With Sammy, we just kind of open the box up and say go," Swinney told reporters. "Don't screw him up."

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