MORGANTOWN - Once upon a time, college football freshmen pretty much knew what to expect of their first year in a program. In only the rarest of instances could any but the most talented imagine playing right away, while the vast majority spent a redshirt year getting bigger, stronger, smarter and, in general, acclimating themselves while toiling on a scout team.
That those days are over is nothing new. For any number of reasons - scholarship limits, summer workouts, an increased maturity and talent level or just plain need - more and more true freshmen have gotten immediate opportunities over the past decade or so.
Now, though, Dana Holgorsen is taking things a step further in his first year at West Virginia. Of the 18 scholarship freshmen in camp, as many as 16 could play right away.
"I lean toward playing them. We had 16 true freshmen at Oklahoma State last year,'' Holgorsen said. "We didn't bring in a big group of true freshmen [this year], but we'll play them.
"I think that's where all of college football is headed right now because of numbers and lack of depth. It's typical to play them, especially the skill kids because they're here all summer and can get adjusted. Linemen are hard. Defensive line is easier than offensive. I haven't had one O-lineman play in 12 years. It's hard.''
That is likely to be the only exception this season, Holgorsen said. This year's freshman class includes three offensive linemen, and none are likely to play right away. Even with the team's offensive line in flux, a combination of factors makes it difficult for any newcomer to help. Not only is there the strength and size issue to be addressed during a year in a college weight room, there is the matter of a steep learning curve. More than any other position, offensive line play is assignment football combined with strength.
Otherwise, though, there are places where all other freshmen can contribute, be it on special teams or in position play.
Actually, there are 18 scholarship true freshmen working out in camp - 14 who arrived this summer and four others who enrolled in January. One of those early enrollees, running back Vernard Roberts, is already first on the depth chart at his position. Paul Millard, another January arrival, is the backup quarterback.
Running backs Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie have already impressed enough to virtually assure themselves spots somewhere on the field, as has safety Shaq Petteway. Cody Clay, the tight end from George Washington, is getting plenty of practice reps already because he fills a need for a big receiver to back up Tyler Urban.