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College Football: Change in eligibility rule should benefit Wildcats

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 04. 2018 6:48PM
UNH's Trevon Bryant, right, and Isiah Perkins make their way inside during Media Day at UNH on Friday. Bryant lost his freshman season after appearing in one game. That rule has now changed. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

DURHAM - University of New Hampshire running back Nico Steriti suffered an ankle injury in a game against Lehigh during the 2014 season, and that injury cost Trevon Bryant, a true freshman at the time, a full season of his college football career.

Based on initial reports about Steriti's injury, UNH coach Sean McDonnell elected to send Bryant into the game, figuring the team would need long-term depth at that position. As it turned out, Steriti missed one game and returned the following week against Richmond.

Bryant's contributions during that season? He carried the ball 17 times for 70 yards, and caught two passes for 19 yards.

"Everybody told me it was going to be a high-ankle sprain," McDonnell recalled. "My experience with that stuff was that a high-ankle sprain was going to take a while, so I immediately put the freshman (Bryant) in the game so that he could get game experience - and we were up by about 20 points at the time. He goes in and plays, and now you burn his redshirt.

"Two weeks later, Nico's playing against Richmond in that game down there where we won on the last drive of the game. He only missed a week, and we could have gotten by with Jimmy Owens, could have gotten by with Dalton (Crossan), could have gotten by with everybody else."

If a similar situation occurs this season there won't be any hesitation about inserting a true freshman into a game. In June, the NCAA announced a change to its redshirt rule and how it applies to Division I college football players. True freshmen will now be allowed to play in as many as four games and still have four seasons of eligibility remaining.

Division I football players will still have five years to play four seasons, and that five-year clock starts ticking once they enter a game.

UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons said the rule will be extra beneficial to UNH and other FCS schools, which are allowed a maximum of 63 scholarships (Dartmouth and other Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships). FBS programs are allowed 85 scholarships.

"I think it's great for our level," Lyons said. "I think it's good for the players, too. With the freshmen coming in you never know how quickly a kid can pick up all the new information - the techniques, the scheme, terminology, and I just think what happens is the kids come in in the old days and they knew they couldn't really play. For the most part we were trying to redshirt our guys, but every now and then a kid because of injuries, depth, something - he was able to contribute.

"I think it's a really good rule for our level, because what happens is as the season goes on you have a lot injuries, so you get really thin. And I think now some of these younger kids will be able to contribute special teams-wise, and that's an area as a team we really need to improve on."

In the past UNH has attempted to redshirt most of its true freshman. The exceptions being a true freshman who is able to contribute immediately, and multiple injuries that thin a particular position.

Safety D'Andre Drummond-Mayrie is another UNH player who entered a game as a true freshman because of an injury and used up a season of eligibility in the process. Drummond-Mayrie graduated last season.

"We were low at safeties and things like that," McDonnell said. "Put (Drummond-Mayrie) in the game because somebody got hurt. We thought it was a concussion that was going to keep him out for three to four weeks. It wasn't as bad. Those two kids (Bryant and Drummond-Mayrie) are the most recent kids. Both of those guys played in their true freshman year."

In addition to providing depth, McDonnell said the new rule will give coaches an opportunity to better evaluate their true freshmen.

"I think it gives us an opportunity to put them in the hot water early in their career here and find out what it really feels like to be playing, because it's a huge difference speed and size-wise (in college versus high school)," he said. "The other thing that we have to look at it as we go through it is can they help us in special-team areas? Can we have a returner? Can we have a cover guy? Can we have a kicker or punter do some things?

"I think it's a great rule, especially for the FCS level because with only 63 scholarships now you can utilize somewhere around eight to 10 other scholarships in that redshirt year that will help us an awful lot."