Week one of the college football season is in the books, and there is already a fair amount of true freshmen playmakers proving to be legitimate contributors to their programs. Many were highly-touted prospects and regarded to have immediate roles in their offense, while others have even shocked the staff at Campus2Canton with their ability to perform at a young age when the lights were brightest.

Without further ado, here are this week’s Campus2Canton Freshmen of the Week.

CJ Donaldson – RB – West Virginia

Photo Courtesy of Charleston Gazette

Donaldson’s performance in the season opener against Pitt was noteworthy, but taking into account that he did so in front of 70,000-plus on the road in a big-time rivalry game, there’s not much more you can ask from the first-year back.

It seemed like good things happened for the offense every time the 6’2” 240-pounder touched the ball. His first carry of the game went for 44 yards, leading to the first touchdown of the day for the Mountaineers. He would go on to block a punt on the opening series of the second half, capping the drive off with a five-yard touchdown, where he carried three defenders on his way to the goal line. The Gulliver Prep (FL) product ended the night with 125 yards on seven carries, averaging almost 18 yards per touch and becoming the first Mountaineer to hit the century mark in his first game since Martell Pettaway in 2016. 

The Mountaineers ran for over 260 yards on the Jayhawks in last year’s matchup, so this should be a juicy matchup for Donaldson to try and replicate his week one production. Monitor the touch distribution between Donaldson and Tony Mathis Jr., who out-touched the freshman 18-to-7.

Jaydn Ott – RB – California

Ott did not start the opener, but he did lead the team in carries and flashed his versatile skill set along the way. The 6’0” 205-pounder ran for 104 yards at a 6.1-yard per carry average and caught two receptions for 26 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown to put Cal up seven late in the first half.

Photo Courtesy of Al Sermeno

Ott was on the field for 40 snaps against UC Davis. Damien Moore, who started this game and eight games a year ago, was on the field for only seven snaps. The next running back in line for touches was third-year back DeCarlos Brooks, who had ten career carries spanning four years going into the season. I haven’t been able to find any details regarding Moore’s lack of touches, but if this isn’t health-related, it appears the freshman will be the primary back in the Golden Bears’ offense going forward.

The Chino, California product was excellent in space, forcing missed tackles on the boundary and making the first defender miss rather consistently. Entering week two’s matchup with UNLV, it will be critical to see if Ott continues to lead the team in total touches or if Moore will be more of a factor this week. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the freshman fares the following week as the Golden Bears travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.

Quinshon Judkins – RB – Ole Miss

At 5’11” and 210 pounds, Judkins doesn’t look like a true freshman from a physical standpoint. Likewise, his week one efforts shadowing Zach Evans flashed production and traits atypical for the typical first-year back.

In the opener against Troy, Judkins ran for 87 yards and a touchdown, averaging over six yards per carry and adding an 18-yard reception. The Pike Road High (AL) product hit the hole tremendously hard and angry, already seeming confident in his lower body strength to hold up and plow through defenders. Judkins always appears to be falling forward for an extra yard or two. Forcing ten missed tackles on 14 total carries, he also showed his capability of making defenders miss one-on-one.

We expected Evans to be the primary back, but many wondered who the next man up was between the freshman and SMU transfer Ulysses Bentley IV. I thought the latter. While Bentley IV found the endzone, he was out-snapped by the true freshman 22-to-14 and Judkins touched the ball on 68 percent of his snaps. I’m not willing to say Judkins is already the locked-in RB2, but this was telling. However, if this type of snap distribution continues this way against Central Arkansas, I’m excited about his year-one outlook.

Barion Brown – WR – Kentucky

You could make an argument for his freshman teammate Dane Key having a better debut, and it would be hard to disregard. Key was the first true freshman Wildcat to start at receiver in the opener since Keenan Burton in 2003 and was second in receptions (4) and yards (53) behind Tayvion Robinson. Both were worthy of recognition and will likely be weekly considerations.

But Brown gets the nod this week after recording three receptions for 45 yards in the opener against Miami (OH). His best play, however, did not come on offense.

His nickname is B7, but he looked more like C4 on the opening kickoff return of the second half, flashing his sub-10.5 speed on his way to a 100-yard touchdown. It was the first kick return touchdown of the Mark Stoops era, but Brown also became the first true freshman to return a kick for a touchdown since 1994.

While the RedHawks definitely cannot match up with Kentucky from an athletic standpoint, it was apparent that the Pearl-Cohn (AL) product is one of those rare athletes that moves at a different pace regardless of the opponent. Stoops mentioned that he wants to get his tight ends more involved in the passing game, which may push Brown into more of a low-volume/high-YPR role. Keep this in mind as the Wildcats head to Gainesville this week.

Kobe Prentice – WR – Alabama

Photo Courtesy of USA Today Sports

Prentice’s name popped throughout camp as a player that impressed in his reserve role, and while we did not expect to contribute early, an injury to presumed slot starter JoJo Earle opened up an opportunity for playing time for the first-year pass-catcher.

Prentice, who grew up about an hour outside of Tuscaloosa, dazzled in his hometown debut. The 5’10” 171-pounder caught five of six targets, recording 60 yards against an outmatched Utah State defense. Prentice’s speed and change of direction were on display throughout the opener, as 54 of his yards came after the catch. While the freshman was used heavily in the short game on quick hitters and bubble screens, you can see he has the route-running craft to be a legitimate technician down the line.

We should be able to get a much clearer look at Prentice’s role within the offense when the Crimson Tide travels to Austin to face the Longhorns. I don’t see Prentice having a high-volume role in the offense with the hyped Jermaine Burton and Traeshon Holden being as advertised. But as long as his target distribution hovers as the third option, Prentice is bound to make a few big plays per game.

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