Gone are the days when freshmen football players rode the bench while learning the playbook. With ridiculously talented, game-ready recruits and plenty of injuries and depth concerns throughout the conference, look for many ACC freshmen to be important players in 2012.
Here’s a look at some of the ACC freshmen in the best positions to make an impact this season:
Perry Hills – Maryland, QB
As the true freshman starting quarterback, Hills is going to make an impact for the Terps one way or the other this year. He has the opportunity to help turn the tide for the Terps and become one of Maryland’s most important players for the next few seasons. If he can’t handle it, fellow frosh Caleb Rowe is waiting in the wings.
Stefon Diggs – Maryland, WR/RS
Landing Diggs might be Randy Edsall‘s biggest win so far as the Terps’ coach. The heavily-recruited phenom can be a factor as a runner, receiver and return specialist. He’s listed on the current depth chart as the primary return specialist and the backup behind Kerry Boykins at wide receiver. Along with Hills, Diggs could be one of the building blocks of a new and improved Maryland team.
Quinshad Davis – North Carolina, WR
The Tar Heels’ receiving corps was supposed to be one of the deepest spots on the offense, but with Todd Harrleson off the team and sophomores T.J. Thorpe and Reggie Wilkins injured, Davis suddenly has a much better chance of getting meaningful snaps and earning a permanent place at the top of the depth chart.
Sherman Ragland III – Wake Forest, WR
The redshirt freshman won the starting job over redshirt senior Terence Davis. He’ll be catching passes from one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks in Tanner Price and the combination might prove to be much better than anyone expects.
Duke Johnson – Miami, RB
Johnson is slotted to back up Mike James at running back, but the flashy freshman is reportedly one of the most explosive players on the team. He’ll push James all season in addition to serving as the primary kick returner.
Michael Holmes – Virginia Tech, RB
The Hokies need someone to replace David Wilson as the leading rusher because, after all, quarterback Logan Thomas can’t do everything. (Actually, maybe he can.) True freshman J.C. Coleman will get some looks, but Holmes is big and fast, and he has the edge after redshirting last season.
Ereck Flowers – Miami, OL
Seantrel Henderson won’t play in the opener at Boston College after missing most of camp, leaving freshman Flowers to start at right tackle. Henderson, a former top prospect, followed a disappointing 2011 season with a disappointing offseason marked by injuries and absences. Flowers, on the other hand, has impressed the coaching staff in practice and could be the next big thing on Miami’s OL.
Steven Daniels – Boston College, LB
The Eagles won’t have an easy time filling the hole left by first-round draft pick Luke Kuechly. They’ll use a combination of players to try to fill his spot, and Daniels, a product of the same high school program as Kuechly, should get a chance to help shore up the defense.
Jabari Hunt-Days – Georgia Tech, LB
Hunt-Days, younger brother of backup QB Synjyn Days, will be the week one starter while veteran Daniel Drummond serves a suspension. Hunt-Days will have a big stage for his college debut: Georgia Tech opens the season in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game against Virginia Tech on Labor Day.
Travis Blanks – Clemson, DB
New defensive coordinator Brent Venables is busy bolstering a defense that gave up almost 400 yards per game in 2011 and Blanks could be a big help in the secondary. He’s challenged for a starting role throughout preseason, but even if he’s not the starter in week one, expect him to be a difference maker for the Tigers.
Tracy Howard - Miami, CB
Howard is expected to be a key member of the Hurricanes’ secondary this season. He’s set several lofty goals for his career at Miami, the first being to earn a starting role as a freshman. Howard has spent considerable time practicing with the first-team defense and seems to be well on his way to crossing Goal #1 off his to-do list.
Ronald Darby – Florida State, CB
Darby is the freshman who made the biggest impact on the team’s veteran players in preseason and the rest of the conference will get to see what he can do this fall. He also runs track, so he’s speedy, but he’s also been praised for his instinctive, physical play.