Thanks to the movie "We Are Marshall," many learned that freshmen previously were forced to sit out a year before playing college football. In fact, it was not until 1972 that the NCAA officially granted college teams the right to do so. Attempts all throughout the 1980ʼs by the organization to try and make these freshmen ineligible again were made but failed ultimately because of the financial hardships of the universities like the one the Thundering Herd suffered in the fatal plane crash of their team.
In many of cases, schools still prefer the benefit to "redshirt" their freshman players, just like in years past, for multiple reasons and rightfully so. Firstly, it allows the player to grow physically for a year. Secondly, it allows the player to get acclimated to college life and their studies. But probably most importantly, it allows the player to practice for a full year in order to be more ready to play.
However, with the amount of players coming out of high school that are more physically gifted than before, and the constant impatience and pressure for a program to win early and often, a trend has taken place since the start of the 21st century for "true" freshmen to see the field from day one at positions such as safety or running back even wide receiver. One position however is still a rarity for a true freshman to play, much less start, is the most important and most difficult position on the field, quarterback.
In 2010, there were only 2 quarterbacks in all of the FBS division (120 teams) to start the first game of the season as a true freshman: Rob Bolden of Penn State and Pete Thomas of Colorado State. Thomas had the luxury of enrolling at Colorado State in the Spring allowing him to participate in Spring practice, something many of the student-athletes who graduate high school early are taking advantage of recently. Thomas lost his first game at home to Colorado 24-3, but went on to start every game that year for the Rams. Rob did the unthinkable by coming in to the Fall and beating out upperclassmen for the position. He won his first game at home against Youngstown St 44-14, but due to a concussion and a falling out with the coaches, he did not start much of the second half of the season.
Recent elite college quarterbacks like Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Matthew Stafford, Carson Palmer, Andrew Luck, and Josh Freeman all played their freshman years, but each one had the advantage of redshirting, enrolling early and/or seeing just limited time before becoming a full starter.
If we narrow it down to just true freshman quarterbacks who came in the fall and won the starting job for the first game, the rarity is even more astonishing. In 2009, there were none. Both Matt Barkley of USC and Tate Forcier of Michigan enrolled in the Spring. You have to go back to 2008 to find a person who fits this criteria, and that was Bo Levi Mitchell of SMU. June Jones had just taken over the Mustangs and went with Mitchell to start. The team would finish 1-11 with that first game being a loss at Rice 56-27.
So not only is it very rare for us to see that true freshman take that first snap, itʼs very rare to see that quarterback have success from the beginning. Two notable athletes who defied the odds were Chad Henne of Michigan in 2004 and Kevin Kolb of Houston in 2003. They both had great success right off the bat, both having easy wins at home in their first action. They both also had great college careers.
About a month ago, a 17-year old kid (turns 18 in October) by the name of Nick Isham came from Southern California to Ruston, La. and Louisiana Tech for his first practice. After a couple weeks of voluntary 7-on-7 scrimmages with his teammates, Isham then began Fall camp to prove his worth. The battle for the starting quarterback job was quickly a 2-man race between himself and redshirt junior Colby Cameron. After a number of practices and scrimmages, head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Tony Franklin made the extremely rare decision of naming Isham the starter for Tech's first game against Southern Miss on the road in Hattiesburg, MS.
Barring injury or a last minute change, Isham will even do a rarer thing. He will become only the 3rd person in recent college football history to start as a true freshman with their first game not being at home and with no jump start in the Spring (Bo Levi Mitchell as mentioned, and Reggie Ball of Georgia Tech in 2003).
"Sometimes you just have to go with your gut and bet your job on it," Franklin said after the most recent scrimmage.
"We felt like he was improving at a rate that was pretty dramatic," said Dykes. "Heʼs a natural leader and has an uncanny ability to not get rattle in critical situations. When he was in the game it just seemed like he moved the ball, got first downs, and scored points, and thatʼs what a quarterback is suppose to do. "If it was 3rd and 5, he got 6 yards. If it was 3rd and 12, he got 13."
This coaching staff is doing something extremely rare. No one knows how this story will go, but we know that story starts in a week
This article is a result of hours of research done on freshman quarterbacks with results being very hard to come by, and is written as such. Other players and stats may have been missed.
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