Last year, Jim Grobe brought in one of the biggest classes in Wake Forest history with 25 signees. He announced over the summer that he would be assessing more of the true freshmen and getting them on the field more if he felt that they were ready to go.
This leads to the conclusion that there are several players out of that 22 recruited freshmen who could possibly see the field and contribute in one way or another. Whether that is on offense, defense or special teams is a big question, but Rob Reinhard and I sat down and assessed all scholarship true freshmen and came up with nine players that we feel have a good shot at seeing the field and helping out right away.
Whether or not a couple of these guys play is contingent on whether or not Zach Allen and Anthony Wooding Jr. are cleared by the NCAA If they are then it would seemingly eliminate the need for a couple of players on this list to burn their redshirt year when they will sparingly see the field (especially at the OLB position).
Also, this is not a list of "who will be the best player in the class" when it is all said and done, but rather who will see the field and help Wake Forest win games this year. For example, I fully expect James Looney to become a threat on the defensive line by the time he graduates, but due to the depth there right now it is highly unlikely that he will see a lot of the field (if at all) this year.
Without further ado, here are our nine players who have a good shot at playing and impacting games this year (in order from greatest possibility to least):
1. Cory Helms (C)
Rob and I both thought that he was the obvious choice for the #1 slot here. He has excelled early on in practice at the center position and Coach Grobe said that he is likely to start there next Thursday night when the season kicks off. Based on what we saw at practice he has fit in well, looks like he knows what he is doing, and can step in immediately and have a shot to start all four years. He may go through some growing pains early on, but it is very promising to see that he has already proved his worth at a position of need.
2. Josh T. Harris (OG)
The second choice was actually a tough one for us to decide on because we had varying ways of judging where to rank a guy. While Harris may not be the sexiest guy on the list, Antonio Ford's status is still up in the air as he recovers from his broken leg sustained last year and that gives Harris a legitimate shot at playing time as the year goes on. Right now it seems that he is competing with RS. Fr. Tyler Hayworth for the OG spot opposite RS. Sr Frank Souza. This leads us to believe Harris will see the field at some point and will be called on to rotate in and out of several games. Seeing as how the offensive line has been questionable for the past few years, Cory Helms and Josh Harris are our two most important guys right now as true freshmen.
Plus, how cool will it be for Josh Harris to block for Josh Harris?
3. Lance Virgile (OLB)
Virgile is the first of our "contingency" guys on the list. If RS. Jr. Zach Allen is cleared by the NCAA then he will likely be plugged in to the starting outside linebacker spot opposite of RS Sr. Justin Jackson. Any starters will be pushed by RS. Fr. Steve Donatell and Kevis Jones, and Lance Virgile is also a guy that is hard to ignore. He is one of the highest rated players in the 2013 class for the Deacs and has shown great athleticism and talent in practice. Due to his position having a fair amount of talented players in its own right, Virgile comes in at number three behind the two hog-mollies. I expect him to be a heckuva player for years to come for the Deacs and perhaps turn into the best of the class.
4. Michael Stevenson (SS)
With the news coming out yesterday of Duran Lowe's dismissal from the team, Michael Stevenson becomes one of three strong safety options right now. Once again, if Wooding Jr. is cleared by the NCAA then it could change things up here, but as of right now Stevenson has a great shot to at least see the field. If everything stays the same as it is now, Air Force Prep true freshman Thomas Brown (did not list him on here because he was not an original member of signing day, but he too has a great chance to see playing time) will push Stevenson for PT here as the backup to RS Fr. Ryan Janvion. It looks like sophomore James Ward has also seen some practice time at the safety spot, but I am not sure if that move is permanent or not.
5. Tyree Harris (WR)
One of the higher touted players in the class talent-wise is WR Tyree Harris. While there are a lot of wide receivers on the roster right now, there has not been any clear cut player that has taken the starting spot. It will likely fall into the hands of RS Jr's. Brandon Terry, Matt James, or RS. So. Sherman Ragland III, but there will be plenty of room for a lot of guys out there. Harris has displayed elusive speed and agility from what we can tell, but struggles a bit with his hands. That can be adjusted as he gets up to college speed and he has a lot of the traits that can't be taught. We like Harris a substantial amount, and he was recruited heavily by several other schools as NSD closed in last year.
6. Johnny Armstong (FL)
Armstrong is one of the true freshmen the coaching staff has raved about as camp progressed. He switched to flanker from running back and is still learning the position. Like Harris, Armstrong has a lot of skills that aren't easily taught, including nearly elite speed. His biggest problem right now is that he behind one of, if not the best, flankers in the country in RS. Sr. Michael Campanaro. Jr. Orville Reynolds is the backup right now, but given the talent of Armstrong it would not surprise us in the least if he does not see the field a reasonable amount this year.
7. Ali Lamot (OLB)
Ali Lamot has the chance to be one of those diamond-in-the-rough kids that Jim Grobe is so good at finding. He excelled at Eastern Alamance last year, recording 17 sacks (T-4th in NC), and also finished second in the 110-meter hurdles in the Spring of 2012. That type of speed is something that most fans do not see at linebacker for Wake Forest very often. He is a freak athlete and has stuck out to us at practice as well. The downside is that he plays at LB and is competing with true freshman Lance Virgile to be the big guy in his first year. This competition will likely fuel them both, and he could see extensive time on special teams to become a Brandon Chubb type player heading into next season.
8. Wendell Dunn (OLB)
Wendell Dunn is the third of the three big true freshmen at OLB right now for the Deacs. It is difficult to separate them right now on the field because they have all looked good so far at practice. Dunn is a bigger player and played safety in high school before moving to linebacker. This gives him the inside track for different defensive packages as the year progresses to see the field, especially with the lack of depth at the safety position given the recent departure of Lowe. He could see the field on defense and will almost certainly get a good look on special teams.
9. Mike Weaver (K)
This name is one that we may have reached on a little bit, but for good reason. RS So. Chad Hedlund has looked dynamite at placekicking so far in practice and scrimmages this year, so why wear him out by doing the kickoffs too? It will be interesting to see what Billy Mitchell does when it comes to that aspect. RS. So. Alex Kinal obviously has the punting gig locked down, but probably does not have the experience to kickoff at this point. Weaver is a great fit in my opinion because he played soccer in high school and has a big leg to boot it down field. As the backup punter and kicker you are always one freak injury away from getting in there, so Weaver could play a bit this year, and could thrive as a kickoff man.
There were several other players considered for the list, and no doubt a couple that we have completely whiffed on. We combined what we had seen at practice, heard from the coaches and other reporters, and how they played based on various YouTube highlight reels to come to our conclusion. This definitely leads to a less than exact science and we will be the first to admit if we are wrong on a guy. After all, they are all on the team and we would love to see them all excel on the field.
Hopefully this helps paint a clearly picture of the potential impact guys coming in and get you all a little more excited for football season!