While spring football at Carroll is all about getting current players reps and confidence heading into the summertime, it’s also about what’s missing.
Mainly, the incoming crop of freshmen.
Saints coach Mike Van Diest said he’s transparent with freshmen during the recruiting process, telling them he’s unsure how they’ll fit into the larger picture. During the recruiting period, Van Diest and his coaching staff have not seen players develop through offseason weight training, spring practice and the summer period.
Freshmen may have a ton of upside, and several of the Saints’ incoming class do -- but it’s still a murky projection.
“When I recruit freshman, I tell them we haven’t even been through spring football yet, so I can’t tell you where you’re going to be at coming in the fall,” Van Diest said. “There’s a few of them I know that will get an opportunity to play.”
Perhaps the best recent example of a freshman stepping in right away and excelling is junior-to-be Connor Fohn, who made noise as a freshman and then broke out as a sophomore en route to a first team all-conference bid when he caught 61 passes for 887 yards and nine touchdowns.
A maturity as well as superb talent put Fohn in a position to be successful. If other freshmen have those traits, the Saints will find them positions.
In the meantime, the best a freshman can do is study film that will be distributed to the incoming class throughout the summer. Van Diest said the freshmen will get partial playbook information to learn basics of the offense and defense as well.
“So when they come in it’s not a foreign language to them,” he said. “They’ll be familiar with some of the base stuff."
Van Diest continued: “Freshmen all over the country are playing in football. The difference, everybody has talent. If a freshman is going to play, he has to have talent. What determines if he’s going to play is what Dane Broadhead, or Gary Cooper, Marcus Atkinson or Matt Ritter, or Connor Fohn had. Are they mature enough? Can they handle the adjustment of coming to college?”
Challenges for freshmen football players coming to Carroll will be similar to other sports and colleges. Success will be determined how one assimilates in a new place, mastering class schedules and practice times, and socializing with new peers and professors.
Van Diest said it takes a bit of time to determine how freshmen are handling the new stresses life in college creates.
“It takes a couple weeks,” Van Diest said. “You have to put them under different stress situations. You have to put them in chaotic elements. You’re not screaming and yelling at them because you don’t like them, but that’s the chaos on Saturdays. The speed of the game is so much faster. There’s a lot of speed. There’s a lot of great players size-wise. They have to be able to adjust to all of that.”
So while the Saints look for answers in terms of filling four open starting positions on each side of the ball, the latest batch of incoming freshmen just may figure to be a part of that equation.