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September 8, 2005

Freshmen backs excel on opening weekend

College football? Child's play.

Really. There's proof.

Of the 41 players who posted 100 or more rushing yards in the opening week of the season, seven were true freshmen.

Here they are, stepping on the field at the next level for the first time, and the next thing you know they're high-stepping toward the end zone.

From wet behind the ears to causing the opposition's tears.

Clemson's James Davis left Texas A&M crying. Without his running, a performance that earned him Rivals.com Freshman of the Week honors, the Tigers probably don't pull off the upset.

"It came out of the blue for me," Davis told Rivals.com. "I never thought I'd get that many carries in my first game, maybe six or seven.

"But I did well, and the coaches said they could use me in there on the last couple of drives. That's something I didn't want to turn down."

Neither did the rest of the Precocious Seven, though none did it against a top 25 team like Davis did.

Still, 148 yards is nothing to Sneed at. That's what Central Michigan's Ontario Sneed posted on only 14 carries in a 20-13 loss to Big Ten opponent Indiana. It was the biggest output by any of the freshmen. Sneed scored on an 80-yard run to pull his team to 14-13 just 12 seconds into the fourth quarter, but the Chippewas couldn't pull off the upset.

Keegan Herring of Arizona State did most of his damage in the second half against Temple, putting up 134 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries.

'Fresh' approach
Seven true freshmen topped the 100-yard rushing mark in the first week of the college football season:
Name Opener Rivals Rank
Ontario Sneed, Cent. Mich. 14-148-1 Unranked
Felix Jones, Arkansas 8-137-1 No. 19 athlete
Jamaal Charles, Texas 14-135-1 No. 7 running back
Keegan Herring, Ariz. State 12-134-1 No.7 all-purpose back
Shonn Greene, Iowa 18-116-1 3-star
Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern 17-104-2 No. 41 running back
James Davis, Clemson 19-101-0 No. 6 running back
"The offensive line was working well and we were clicking together," Herring told Rivals. "I just had to get through the holes."

While Sneed and Davis were posting 100 for underdog teams, Herring and the other four freshmen to top the century mark did so in games in which their teams were on the positive side of lopsided victories. That by no means diminishes their accomplishment, but rather points out that the road to stardom won't always seem quite so smoothly paved.

There will be potholes. It was easy to avoid them against Missouri State (Arkansas' Felix Jones had 137 yards) and Louisiana Lafayette (Jamaal Charles gained 135 yards); it will be less so this weekend for Herring (against No. 5 LSU) and Charles (at No. 6 Ohio State).

Not to mention defenses that had no clue who these guys were before the season openers now will see their jersey numbers flickering across the screen in their film rooms. These freshmen went from off the radar to primary targets.

The Next Seven
Rivals.com believes these will be the next seven freshmen to top the 100-yard rushing mark this season:
Name Rivals Rank Opener
Mike Davis, S.Carolina No. 22 running back 11-15
Kevin Grady, Michigan No. 4 running back 9-42-1
Jason Gwaltney, W.Va. No. 3 running back 6-19
Marlon Lucky, Nebraska No. 2 running back 13-44
Henry Melton, Texas No. 7 athlete 6-65-2
Josh Portis, Florida No. 4 dual-threat QB 5-45
Jonathan Stewart, Oregon No. 1 running back 5-47
"Yeah, the bar has been raised," Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton, who posted 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a rout of Ohio, told Rivals.com. "I've never been a guy who sets mediocre goals. I want to go out and produce for my team and help us win any way I can. Whether that is running for 100 yards a game or picking up blitzes in the backfield, I'll do whatever."

That's the kind of attitude that not only got these players on the field but will keep them there.

"I know it's going to get harder," Davis said. "But I set goals for myself and my goal is to come out and work hard and try to earn ACC Freshman of the Year."

So far so good.

Bob McClellan can be reached via email at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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