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The day before he turned 18, Niehaus was in on 13 tackles against Northwestern in Notre Dame's opener. And it has to be more than symbolic that with Niehaus suddenly out last Saturday, the previously unbeaten Irish were upset by Missouri 30-26.
Actually, one of the first freshmen to make the world realize that the new rule was here did it with his foot. That was Dan Taylor, a teen-ager at Bowling Green who walked into a workout and five days later placekicked a field goal in the last quarter to score a mighty upset over Purdue. His toe also helped beat Miami of Ohio the following Saturday, but it was after that opener with the Boilermakers that you got an idea of what it must be like for a few of the rookies.
Kind of milling around the dressing room after the initial jubilation of victory, Don Taylor, freshman, hero, walk-on, confessed that he felt "lonely."
"I don't know anybody yet," he said. Some freshmen have so much ability their coaches don't quite know where to use them. A classic example is Indiana's Quinn Buckner, who is also a basketball hero. He's an impressive 6'2", 198 and quick. So far, Buckner is a starting safety ("We let him cover the whole middle," says Defensive Backfield Coach Nick Mourouzis), plus a punt-and kick-off-return specialist. Buckner has been spectacular on a so-so team. It is not impossible that in future seasons he could become an All-America in two different sports.
Of all the freshmen who have been stirring up excitement, the one who has a chance to make it the biggest eventually is a quarterback named Kerry Jackson at Oklahoma. He is in the glamour job, after all, on a glamour team and in a glamour offense, the Wishbone. Through last Saturday in his second straight TV appearance, Jackson still had not won the job from the seasoned upperclassman Dave Robertson, but it seemed clear that he might, seeing as how OU was rudely upset because of its inability to move the ball. Although he is part of the Avis Bunch, which is what Oklahoma's speedy second-team backfield calls itself, Jackson is one of the team's leading rushers with 298 yards, or 6.3 per carry. The loss to Colorado proved OU feels the absence of Jack Mildren at quarterback, but Jackson shows strong signs of becoming another one.
"I don't know if I'm ready to start," Jackson says, "but I'd rather be where I am than on a freshman team. I like it when Joe Washington [another freshman] and I are in the game together. That's on time, man."
Who is not on time, not exactly, is a fellow named Bruce Peterson, a freshman kicking specialist at Hamline. He hasn't gotten in a game yet, but there he is, suited up and willing. He happens to be 42 years old and he admits that his wife thinks he is crazy for doing what he is doing at his age.
Mrs. Bruce Peterson may be right, but her husband certainly isn't any crazier than all of those coaches who thought freshmen couldn't play.