As I began sifting through all of the freshman media day videos from Friday, I started to think about how each year everyone gets fixated on the freshman, but quickly forgot those who don’t make an immediate impact. In 2009 there are several top line sophomores who’ve gotten plenty of press this summer, but here’s a look at a handful of sophs who aren’t getting much thought on the boards, but could surprise people in ’09.
Deion Walker – WR
The hottest name among the offensive freshman has been Shaquelle Evans. The talented frosh has come in and showed observers a polished game and college ready frame. It was this time last year though that Notre Dame fans were debating which incoming freshman would have a better career – Michael Floyd or Deion Walker. Floyd went on to have an outstanding rookie season, while Walker didn’t see the field.
Flash forward a year and Walker seems to be getting overlooked by most Irish fans now that Evans is on campus and turning some heads. Walker might possess the best combination of size and speed among the Notre Dame wide receivers though and could seriously challenge for the third receiver spot to start the season.
Walker was a five star recruit at one time and had scholarship offers from USC, Penn State, Florida State, and Tennessee among others. With four years of eligibility left, there is a lot of time for Walker to become the dominant receiver most felt he would be coming out of high school. He could begin working towards being that kind of receiver this year.
Jonas Gray – RB
With Armando Allen securely set as the top running back for the Irish, the general consensus on blogs and forums this summer has been that Robert Hughes has the second spot locked down. Gray showed flashes as a freshman though that have some thinking he’ll challenge Hughes for the carries that don’t go Allen’s way.
As a freshman Gray had trouble holding onto the ball and it nearly cost the Irish dearly against Navy, but he also showed an initial burst that the other Notre Dame backs don’t have. Gray is a big back with great top end speed, but will need to improve on his blocking. He raised some eyebrows last summer by having what some deemed a NFL-ready body upon arriving on campus.
Incoming freshman Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick have caught a lot of people’s eyes this summer and Gray has become somewhat of an afterthought when people begin discussing depth at running back. By season’s end people might not be overlook Gray because he could end up providing some big plays for the Irish this year.
Jamoris Slaughter – CB
Jamoris Slaughter was overshadowed by classmate Robert Blanton last summer. Blanton made some headlines in the summer and back them up in the fall and now has a strong grasp on a starting spot. Slaughter meanwhile has quietly worked his way into the mix for some playing time behind backups Raeshon McNeil and Gary Gray.
Like Blaton, Slaughter is more of a physical corner. He drew some praise from the coaching staff in the spring and translated his strong spring into a spot on the two deep behind Darrin Walls. While he won’t likely challenge Blanton of Walls this year, Slaughter will be in the mix for playing time in the nickel and dime packages as well as the special teams units.
Dan McCarthy – FS
Sophomore free safety Dan McCarthy did not play as a true freshman last year after suffering a neck injury during his senior season at Cardinal Mooney HS and has taken a back seat to freshman Zeke Motta in terms of people’s attention this summer. The younger McCarthy, however, was considered a much better prospect than his older brother Kyle coming out of high school. Kyle McCathy hasn’t turned out too bad for the Irish so if his little brother has a brighter future, Notre Dame fans should be pretty excited.
McCarthy is listed as Harrison Smith’s backup at free safety to start the season, but with Kyle exhausting his eligibility this season, McCarthy figures to be in the starting mix next year.
For this season, McCarthy’s biggest contributions might come on special teams, but if he can return to pre-injury form, he has a very bright future ahead of him.
Sean Cwynar – DT
The biggest name being talked about among the sophomore defensive linemen has been Kapron Lews-Moore. The Texas native is penciled in as a the starter at strong side defensive end to start the season. Classmate Sean Cwynar has quietly been working his way up the depth chart, however, and could be a factor this year along the defensive line.
Cwynar was an early enrollee last spring, but did not make it onto the field in 2008. With two full spring practices and soon to be two full fall camps under his belt, the Illinois native could be ready to see the field in 2009.
Brandon Newman – NT
Like Cwynar, Newman hasn’t gotten a lot of attention from fans this summer. Newman, however, was probably the most impressive sophomore defensive lineman outside of Ethan Johnson during the Blue-Gold game. He needed some work in the weight room last year before he was ready to see the field, but as he enters his sophomore season he could be ready for meaningful minutes.
Newman will start off the season as Ian Williams’s backup and I’m sure the coaching staff would love it if he could step in a spell Williams without there being a major drop off so that Williams can stay fresh throughout the season.
While these sophomores might not be top line players for the Irish this season, they all have the potential to be top liners in the near future and we should start to get a glimpse of their potential this fall.