CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Impact Freshmen

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Recruiting in college football is the lifeblood of a program’s success. While the majority of the Class of 2015 will see their time to lead and prove valuable on the field will come in the next few years, a select few special talents could end up playing a key role with their new programs starting this fall.

Unlike decades past, talented freshmen have a chance to become household names now. In recent years we have seen players like Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston dazzle from the start of their collegiate careers, each going on to win a Heisman Trophy as freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Last season may not have produced a young Heisman phenom, but it did have its share of young stars like LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Baylor wide receiver K.D. Cannon and Alabama defensive end Da’Shawn Hand.

So which freshmen could be names to watch this season? Here are a few.

JOSH ROSEN, QB, UCLA

Many suspect Josh Rosen will have a chance to step right into the starting job at UCLA as the Bruins look to replace Brett Hundley. And why wouldn’t he? One of the top quarterbacks in the Class of 2015, Rosen seems to be worthy of filling one of the few holes UCLA’s offense has this season. Rosen enrolled early to get a jump start on getting adjusted, and that should pay off.

KAHLIL MCKENZIE, DL, TENNESSEE

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has done a tremendous job in bringing in talent since he took over the Vols program, but the addition of Kahlil McKenzie may be his best recruiting victory yet. McKenzie brings good size to the middle of Tennessee’s defensive line and should be a monster for opposing offensive linemen to block.

DERWIN JAMES, DB, FLORIDA STATE

Florida State has plenty of holes to fill, except in the defensive secondary. There should be a spot for Derwin James somewhere in the mix though. James proved to be a playmaker in the spring game after enrolling early. Look for James to be worked into the defensive game plan in certain situations this fall.

MARTEZ IVEY, OL, FLORIDA

New Florida head coach Jim McElwain had a relatively short time to recruit for the Gators, so locking in offensive lineman Martez Ivey was significant. The premium offensive lineman should have an impact in the trenches in a spot that has been weak for Florida in recent years. He won’t be making big plays happen but adding stability up front is always good.

MALIK JEFFERSON, LB, TEXAS

If there is one thing Charlie Strong knows what to do with Texas, it is improve the defense. The Longhorns welcome new linebacker Malik Jefferson to the fold this fall, and Jefferson should quickly become the centerpiece of Strong’s improving Longhorns defense. It will not take long for him to leave an impact this fall in Austin after enrolling early to be there for spring practices.

SOLOMON THOMAS, DL, STANFORD

Stanford is in the unusual position of having to refuel the defensive line. Sitting out the 2014 season with a redshirt should pay dividends for Solomon Thomas at Stanford. Thomas should waste little time giving opposing offensive linemen trouble this season, as he has a chance to move right into a starting gig sooner rather than later if healthy.

BYRON COWART, DE, AUBURN

Auburn’s defense is expected to improve simply with the addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, but the Tigers need a body to bring some pressure up front on the defensive line. Byron Cowart could have an impact off the edge by the time the season is over. Look for Cowart to move up the depth chart quickly at Auburn and excel under the guidance of Muschamp.

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank transfers to Rutgers

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank is transferring to Rutgers.
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Former Wisconsin wide receiver Aron Cruickshank may be leaving the Badgers, but he will remain in the Big Ten. Cruickshank announced he is transferring to Rutgers.

Cruickshank confirmed his transfer to Rutgers with a post on his Instagram account on Saturday afternoon. According to NJ.com, Cruickshank was making an official visit to Rutgers this weekend. The visit must have gone well because he announced his transfer decision on the same day. Cruickshank announced his entry to the transfer portal earlier this month.

This is a nice addition for new (again) Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. If the hiring of Schiano was supposed to entice more talent in and around The Garden State to want to stay close to home to play Big Ten football, then the transfer decision of Cruickshank is an encouraging start for the Scarlet Knights. Cruickshank is a Brooklyn, New York native, and Rutgers does love to attach itself to the New York metropolitan region.

Cruickshank appeared in all 14 games played by Wisconsin in the 2019 season, including all 12 regular-season games, the Big Ten championship game, and the Rose Bowl. Cruickshank was used mostly on special teams with 23 kickoff returns for 674 yards and two touchdowns. Cruickshank had one of his kickoff touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. He returned four kickoffs for 194 yards in the game. He also returned one kickoff to the house earlier in the season at Nebraska.

Cruickshank will have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules. That will leave the former Badgers receiver with two years of eligibility beginning in 2021.

Texas brings Jay Boulware home from Oklahoma

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Jay Boulware is crossing sides in the Red River Rivalry… again. Boulware officially joined the Texas coaching staff on Saturday, the school announced. Boulware will be the special teams and tight ends coach for the Longhorns.

“Jay is a proven, accomplished coach and special teams coordinator who as a former Longhorn and Texas native, has deep roots in our state,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said in a released statement. “He also has extensive experience coaching in the Big 12, having spent a decade in our league, and has worked with teams that have competed at the highest level, including a National Championship team at Auburn in 2010.”

“I’ve been watching this program from afar since the day I left there in the spring of 1997, and I’ve always had it in my mind that I would like to come back someday and help Texas win a National Championship,” Boulware said in his released statement.

Boulware comes to Texas from rival Oklahoma. Boulware coached with the Sooners from 2013 through last season and was a part of multiple Big 12 championship teams and a program that participated in the College Football Playoff each of the past two seasons. Boulware was Oklahoma’s special teams and running backs during the last seven seasons. HE previously coached tight ends at Texas, NIU, Arizona, Utah, and Auburn.

Boulware started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Longhorns in 2014. He eventually was named tight ends coach and spent three seasons with his alma mater (Boulware played offensive tackle for Texas in 1991 and 1992). His coaching stops have included Northern Illinois, Arizona, Stanford, Utah and Iowa State, where he joined Gene Chizik and followed him to Auburn. In 2013, Boulware was hired by Wisconsin to be a part of a new staff being compiled by Gary Andersen, but he left the Badgers for Oklahoma just months later.

Clemson DT Xavier Kelly announces entry to transfer portal

Clemson redshirt junior Xavier Kelly will leave Clemson as a graduate transfer.
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Defensive tackle Xavier Kelly will no longer be a part of the Clemson football program. The redshirt junior announced he has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will look for another school to wrap up his collegiate career.

“I have never shied away from hard work or a challenge. My time at Clemson was a challenge that I happily accepted, [and I] worked hard to be the best defensive lineman, teammate and student I could be,” Kelly said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.

“With this being said, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and continue my football career elsewhere. It is an honor to be able to say that I graduated from Clemson. Clemson will always have a special place in my heart.”

Kelly was listed third on the Clemson depth chart for one of the team’s two defensive tackle positions. Kelly appeared as a backup option behind freshman Tyler Davis and redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams. Kelly appeared in 10 games in the 2019 season and recorded a total of six tackles with credit for half of a sack. Kelly did not play in either of Clemson’s game sin the College Football Playoff.

In 2016, Kelly was involved in a moped accident that resulted in stitches. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said at the time Kelly was not wearing a helmet when somebody crashed into his moped.

By entering the transfer portal, Kelly is free to have contact with any other college football program interested in recruiting him. As a graduate transfer, Kelly will be able to use his final year of eligibility in 2020 and will not have to sit out the 2019 season.

Bob Shoop and Brian Jean-Mary join Michigan coaching staff; Jay Harbaugh promoted to special teams coordinator

Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop are the newest members of Michigan's coaching staff.
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Michigan has officially introduced two new defensive assistants to the staff. Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop were added to the defensive side of the coaching staff on Saturday as Michigan continues to retool its coaching staff this offseason.

According to the release from Michigan on Saturday, Shoop will take on the role of safeties coach for the Wolverines. Jean-Mary will serve as linebackers coach. In addition, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh promoted his son, Jay Harbaugh, to special teams coordinator. Harbaugh will continue to coach the running backs as well.

“I am excited about the addition of Brian and Bob to our defensive coaching staff,” said Harbaugh. “Brian and Bob are well-respected, experienced coaches who represent great fits for the University of Michigan. Both coaches have experience coordinating some of the best defenses in the country, and their development of all-conference and future NFL players throughout their careers will benefit our program and student-athletes. Michigan Football looks forward to having Brian, Bob and their families join the University family.”

Jean-Mary joins the Michigan program after three seasons with former USF head coach Charlie Strong at USF. Jean-Mary has been a longtime assistant under Strong, coaching with Strong at Louisville and Texas prior to USF.

Shoop previously was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. This will mark a return to the Big Ten for Shoop. Shoop previously coached at Penn State under James Franklin. Shoop went to Penn State with Franklin after three seasons at Vanderbilt. Shoop left Penn State for Tennessee after the 2015 season and coached the Vols defense for two seasons for former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Shoop and Penn State also carried on a bit of a legal squabble over Shoop’s contract and his exit from the Nittany Lions. Shoop took a job at Mississippi State when Joe Moorhead was hired (in the same coaching carousel that saw a coaching change at Tennessee and the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt, a former defensive coordinator himself).