Alabama’s football future is playing out right before its eyes.
Seventeen true freshmen have made their collegiate debuts for the Crimson Tide so far this season. Fourteen of them have appeared in at least five of Alabama’s 10 games. Seven have played in all of them.
“The No. 1 thing we fight in recruiting is that you can’t play,” UA coach Nick Saban said last Saturday. “You won’t play. Everybody tells them you don’t play as a freshman.
“Well, we play more freshman than anybody.”
Illinois has played 22 true freshman, more than any other team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Alabama falls in fourth.
Even within the SEC, Alabama isn’t at the top of the list. LSU is, with 20 newbies having taken the field, which comes second nationally to Illinois. Texas A&M follows with 18, both in the nation and in the conference, while Tennessee actually ties Alabama for its spot.
So, no, the Crimson Tide does not play more freshman than anybody.
“We’ve probably played more freshmen than most teams this year,” Saban said Monday.
Now that is accurate.
Here’s a quick look at all the true freshmen who have played so far: Christopher Allen, VanDarius Cowan, Thomas Fletcher, Najee Harris, Kedrick James, Jerry Jeudy, Alex Leatherwood, Xavier McKinney, Dylan Moses, LaBryan Ray, Brian Robinson Jr., Henry Ruggs III, DeVonta Smith, Tua Tagovailoa, Major Tennison, Jedrick Wills Jr. and Daniel Wright.
“Those guys have provided a tremendous amount of depth and on some occasions filled in very admirably for guys when they’re called on, whether it’s special teams or whatever the role has been as contributors to the team,” Saban said. “So we’re happy that we’ve played as many guys as we’ve played, and we’re happy how those guys have played.”
Altogether, the true freshmen have scored 13 touchdowns, rushed for 492 yards and totaled 528 receiving yards. Tagovailoa has thrown 385 passing yards. And the young defenders have made 38 tackles.
The Crimson Tide played 12 players fresh out of high school last year. This season’s tally isn’t a surprise.
“Not at all,” senior defensive back Levi Wallace said. “We tell them as soon as they get here that anything can happen. People can go down. Tough league, physical league, and a lot of injuries do occur. So be ready and be prepared.”
The key is confidence.
Saban recruits players with talent. What they’re lacking, however, is knowledge and experience. That’s where practice comes in handy, so they can execute when thrown into the fire.
“In most cases, we’ve been able to play them enough to enhance their development,” Saban said, “which is always sort of the priority when you play a young player is, are we going to play the guy enough so it enhances his development in practice every week and also in the game experience that he gains.”