Around the ACC: Impact Freshmen

Miami freshman RB Randy “Duke” Johnson (photo courtesy of

We polled our beat writers for their input on which freshman (true or redshirt) is mostly likely to have an impact on their team, and here’s what they had to say.  (We filled in for the teams that still need beat writers — cough! BC-Clemson-MD-State-Wake cough!)

Check out the ACC’s future stars.

Boston College, by

Although Boston College returns a strong group of linebackers, Steven Daniels was BC’s highest ranked recruit and probably the most physically ready to play right away.  The Eagles have a history of playing freshman linebackers, and Daniels is talented enough to step in and at least be a heavy contributor on special teams.

Clemson, by

The defending ACC Champs lost some talented players off their defensive line, and they could potentially use some help up front.  Carlos Watkins is a talented defensive tackle who chose Clemson over Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Notre Dame and many others.  He could potentially provide a boost to the Tiger defensive line in his first season.

Duke, by Duke Beat blogger Mike Kline

Duke has a lot of freshman that will could end up seeing a lot of field time, but the one that could end up being needed the most is true freshman wide receiver Anthony Nash. It isn’t just the fact that Nash is 6-foot-5 and runs a sub 4.5 forty that makes him a potential impact player. It’s the fact that injuries have depleted the depth at receiver and tight end that have made Nash’s development so crucial, and why you can expect him to be pressed into service. He has been working in the off season with the Blue Devil’s best receiver in Conner Vernon, so there is no better example for him to model himself after. If he can be a fraction as good as Vernon, then Duke, and especially quarterback Sean Renfree, will benefit from it.

Florida State, by FSU Beat blogger Adam Tolliver (who cheated by naming two guys!)

Having been on campus for nearly two months now, there are two names that have continuously drawn high praise from coaches and fellow teammates throughout summer workouts and the first week of fall camp: defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerback Ronald Darby, both Washington D.C natives.

Goldman was the nation’s #1 DT recruit last year and he has lived up to that in the early going. He stands at 6-4, 320 lbs. and is being credited with having the quickest of feet among all of the young defensive linemen, which is high praise. Florida State is not hurting for depth along the interior defensive line, but Goldman’s physical stature and talent may negate those points. He should be a contributor this season.

In the case of Ronald Darby, the Seminoles landed a kid who was widely regarded as the #1 or #2 CB in 2012. Darby is 5-11, 190 lbs. and has incredible speed, doubling as a track athlete, but equally impressive thus far has been his physicality, change of direction abilities and his natural instincts for the game of football. Over the weekend, five different Seminole veterans were asked “which of the freshmen have impressed you the most” and each one answered “Ronald Darby” without much hesitation and with genuine enthusiasm. For a true freshman corner to earn the respect of such talented veterans on the team in such little time speaks volumes to the type of talent Darby is.

Georgia Tech, by GT Beat blogger Geofferson P. Burdell

My Name’s Sue, How Do You Do? Georgia Tech has a number of high-potential freshmen and redshirt freshmen. Among them, defensive end Francis Kallon stands out, and not only for his accent. He’s an Englishman who moved to the United States while in high school. Before coming to the states, he had played soccer and rugby, and (I presume) often enjoyed a spot of tea with his mates. The football coach at his high school somehow noticed that the 6-5, 245-pound Kallon might have some natural ability to develop on the gridiron. He took to the game quickly and was productive from the start. Al Groh is going to love this kid, and so are Georgia Tech fans. One can only imagine what coaching and strength training are going to do for him. Additionally, his family lives in Gwinnett County, so he’ll be playing home games in front of his mum!

Maryland, by

The Terps need help almost everywhere, but wide receiver Stefon Diggs has the best chance to be a major contributor right away.  The #2 wideout in the country decided to stay close to home to play his college ball, and he could find himself in the starting lineup in his first year.

Miami, by Miami Beat blogger Chris Bennett

The answer? RB Randy “Duke” Johnson. This is a safe, easy choice, but it’s also the sexy choice. Offensive Lineman Ereck Flowers is working as the starting right tackle, and DB Tracy Howard is likely starting at cornerback, but it’ll be virtually impossible for either to be more noticeable than Johnson. The knock on Duke coming in was his 170 pound frame wasn’t cut out to take a pounding immediately. I argued that Johnson’s impact could be felt with eight to ten touches weekly. After just over a week, all this speculation seems moot, as Johnson is up to 190 pounds and is making an impression, both inside and outside with the ball in his hands. Johnson is creating more and more hype with each passing day, and in an offense void of proven playmakers, he’s going to get more chances than most to prove his worth. He looks like he’s got the speed and swagger Miami has been missing for years.

North Carolina, by UNC Beat blogger Zach Evans

Without question, Giovani Bernard proved to be an elite talent at running back last season, and I am not predicting he will get Wally Pipp’d by this newcomer.  That said, redshirt freshman Romar Morris is a speedy back that should shine in Larry Fedora’s new up-tempo offense.  Morris was a two-time state champion at Salisbury (NC) High School in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints.  In the Spring Game, Morris saw plenty of action after Bernard left with a gash to his head that required five stitches. Morris scored three touchdowns in a seven-minute span, electrifying those in attendance with his speed and agility.  He will be a great complement to Gio, and a lot of fun to watch.

North Carolina State, by

NC State is another ACC team that could use some help up front on the defensive side of the ball.  K’Hadree Hooker is their most advanced defensive line signee, and the 280-lbs defensive tackle could see playing time immediately.  Hooker is a strong player with a low center of gravity.

Virginia, by Virginia Beat blogger Brendan Cotter

You might think that UVA’s top-rated recruit, defensive end Eli Harold, would be a prime candidate for the top impact freshman in 2012, and you’d be right – the Cavalier defense is in desperate need of a pass-rushing threat, and that’s exactly what Harold brings.  However, the depth chart ahead of him is well-stocked.  The freshman turning the most heads in fall camp so far is cornerback Maurice Canady, a player who earned his UVA offer at UVA’s high school camp in 2011.  Canady was lightly recruited (his only other I-A offer was East Carolina) and didn’t light up the star-ratings, but he put his athleticism on display in his senior season by filling in as an emergency quarterback and putting up dazzling statistics.  And though he hasn’t played cornerback in the past, he projected well there coming into college, and has exceeded everyone’s expectations so far, to the point where he’s a major threat to force his way into the starting lineup by the end of the month.  Even if he’s not technically a starter on September 1, it’s already clear he’ll play a huge role in the secondary this year.

Virginia Tech, by VT Beat blogger Don Deibler

David Wilson’s departure has left a hole in one of the most fundamental positions on the field, the tailback. Michael Holmes (5-11/208lbs, Harrisonburg VA) is a redshirt freshman, which means he will have the advantage of a full year of workouts and playbook studying over the true freshman tailbacks that are competing for the position. Holmes brings a combination of size and speed that can be applied to many different game situations. Pass protection and ball security are common issues with younger tailbacks, but Holmes will be able to use his redshirt year experience to help correct these issues. Expect to see other players such as Trey Edmunds and JC Coleman contribute at tailback, but for now it is Holmes’ job to lose, making him an impact freshman.

Wake Forest, by

The Demon Deacons need help at tight end.  Zach Gordon, who chose Wake over Stanford, Boston College, Kentucky and others, is big enough to help right away.  He doesn’t have much competition on the depth chart at this point.

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