Football freshmen take the field

Murali Balaji

They stepped onto the field, giddy and apprehensive, but ready to play.
For incoming Gophers football recruits, this week’s freshman camp offered a chance to shake off any early jitters while trying to showcase their talents to coach Glen Mason and his staff.
On paper, this appears to be one of the Gophers’ most formidable recruiting classes in recent years. But the transition the newcomers will make from high school to college is critical to their ability to contribute this year, and that’s why Mason and his staff are taking no chances in estimating how much the freshmen already know.
“It’s kind of like teaching them the English language all over again,” Mason said. “Whatever they learned in high school, you tell them to forget and start over.”
For now, most players are busy dealing with the often difficult transition from high school to college football.
“For one thing, it’s just much faster,” said linebacker Astin Osei, a native of Bolingbrook, Ill. “Unlike high school, you’ve got no time to relax.”
Jermaine Mays, an all-state wide receiver from Miami, was impressive in light drills and could figure into this year’s mix of pass-catchers.
“The coaches said that a lot of freshmen are getting a lot of playing time,” Mays said. “I just have to be ready to play.”
Mason, however, was reluctant to tip his hat on which first-year players would get a chance to contribute.
“I really don’t want to get too overexcited about our guys,” he said. “These are just the first couple of days, so we’re just letting them get adjusted.”
Highly touted quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq was a no-show for the freshman practices this week. He has yet to clear the NCAA clearinghouse, a process every student athlete must complete before being eligible to play.
However, the freshman practices provided a glimpse of some other young players who could make an impression in the near future.
Ron Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound receiver from Detroit, received mild applause from the coaching staff for his ability to snare every pass thrown to him. Johnson also showed great burst and acceleration for a big receiver, breaking away from the smaller defensive backs after he made a catch.
In 11-on-11 drills, running back Arland Bruce — a transfer from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas — broke several long runs and demonstrated an ability to find the hole quickly. Bruce, along with freshman Tellis Redmon, could vie for time in the backfield with incumbent starter Thomas Hamner.
Overall, the past few days have been mostly introductory, allowing the freshmen to adapt to Mason’s style and get to know their new coach better.
“I like how he treats everybody like men,” Osei said. “He doesn’t talk to us like we’re kids. He shows respect as long as he gets respect.”
Mason, along with the rest of the coaching staff, took some time to explain what the new players should expect once full-squad practices begin Saturday.
“Coach said to expect a lot of intimidation by the older guys,” Mays said. “They will be trying to mess with you and get in your head.”