Every year, there are a handful of players who are either freshmen/redshirt freshmen or have been biding their time of the depth chart behind more established players, that burst onto the scene and make a name for themselves. It’s the secret to success in college football - how quickly can you develop the next man up?
For TCU, it’s no different, as each season brings a new name to know. In 2015, KaVontae Turpin scored four touchdowns against Texas as a true freshman to introduce himself on the national stage. In 2016, Darius Anderson broke free for a 70 yard scoring scamper (also against Texas; I’m noticing a theme here) to give us a sign of things to come. Last year, Jalen Reagor went WAY UP for a momentum changing Hail Mary grab against SMU that made everyone double take.
Now, we are here in 2018, looking for the next young star. It’s not always a freshman, of course, but with 30+ graduations from a year ago, the opportunities are certainly there for a newcomer to make waves - and I just happen to think it will be one of the younger guys in the program.
(in case your favorite freshman is missing from this list, worry not - the impact freshmen will be published later this week)
With all of that being said, here are the five players that we think will be contributors early and often in 2018.
John Stephens, JR: WR (freshman)
Some players just ***look*** different, even in shorts, and JSJ is definitely an example of that. At 6’4” and a stout 195 pounds, Stephens Jr looks the part of a developed Division I player, not a kid that stepped foot on campus for the first time just weeks ago.
A three-star athlete as a recruit, Stephens Jr had just seven offers - and Mississippi State was his only other Power Five. Having played DE in high school in addition to catching passes, he could have easily played on either side of the ball for TCU, but his 7’ wing span and exceptional jumping ability make him a potential special player on offense, especially in the end zone.
John, who is the son of the late John Stephens - who played college ball at Northwestern State and was the NFL Rookie of the Year for the Patriots in 1998 - is a phenomenal athlete and an extraordinarily coachable player. With Omar Manning leaving TCU due to academic issues, there is room for a big receiver to line up across from Jalen Reagor and make plays, and Stephens Jr and Tevailance Hunt will definitely be vying for the role.
Noah Daniels: CB (redshirt freshman)
“Noah has had a good camp”. That’s the phrase that Gary Patterson has been heard uttering on more than one occasion early on in preseason, having been impressed by the young corner who is fighting to earn a spot in the rotation across from incumbent starter Jeff Gladney.
The League City native is a big corner, standing in at 6’0” and 205 pounds, something that TCU has long needed on the outside. He is also a high-IQ guy, having picked up the intricacies of Patterson’s 4-2-5 to the point that he is working his way up the depth chart at a rapid pace. With 28 offers out of high school, Daniels was as hotly pursued as anyone in the class of 2017, and was a big recruiting win for the Frogs - they beat out OU, Arkansas, and Notre Dame, among others.
Noah might not be the starter on day one - he has competition from veteran players Julius Lewis, Tony James, and Keenan Reed - but his combination of size and speed (4.3 40) is going to make it hard to keep him off the field. Expect him to be a part of the rotation early, and a candidate to start late.
Michael Onyemaobi: CB/S (redshirt freshman)
Another redshirt defensive back who has been making serious noise this month is the man GP lovingly calls “Obi Wan Kenobi”, California-native Michael Onyemaobi. Looks like reporters all across North Texas or going to have to memorize the spelling of that last name, as Yoyo (his preferred nickname) has been so good, TCU is working him at two spots in order to maximize his snaps.
Listed at safety, the 6’1” Yoyo is probably best classified as a playmaker. With the size to play on the back end and the speed to match up with the talented receivers littered across the conference, Onyemaobi is exactly the kind of player that can make Patterson go from good to great. Oh, and as a former wide receiver... if he gets his hands on the ball... look out.
Onyemaobi is instinctive and aggressive, and his ability to play both safety and CB gives the backend of the defense a flexibility that should help against teams that have a receiving threat in the backfield or a solid receiving tight end. It’s a huge benefit against the up-tempo, no-huddle offenses of the high-flying Big 12 as well. I expect Onyemaobi to be on the field a lot this fall.
La’Kendrick Van Zandt: S (sophomore)
La’Kendrick is one of those players who could have really used the new redshirt rule, having burned his by way of playing in one game a season ago - against Jackson State. Another big safety at 6’1”, 206 pounds, the bEAST Texas product played running back and free safety in high school. Now, he sits second on the depth chart at safety in the pecking order at TCU, battling to supplant Ridwan Issahaku or Niko Small to play across from Innis Gaines.
Coach P has been complimentary of his young safety, a hard-working student of the game who has made big strides in his first year in the program. Depth in the back end is never a bad thing, and LVZ could be another impact player at a position that lost a lot to graduation and injury.
Trevon Moehrig-Woodard: S (freshman)
Another first year player that has stood out early is Trevon, another secondary player who has size (6’2”) and speed (4.49 40), and has come along much faster than expected in the early goings of preseason ball. Injuries to Niko Small (who is back on the practice field), Ridwan Issahaku (who missed all of spring ball due to injury), and Atanza Vongor (a highly-regarded true freshman who is expected to miss the season with a yet to be disclosed injury) have opened the door for players like Moehrig-Woodard, and the Smithson Valley product seems to have taken advantage.
As Gary Patterson has noted time and time again, the new redshirt rule allows for players like Trevon to get a taste of Saturdays, or more likely, to fill in due to injury, without losing a year of eligibility. Though depth at the position may dictate that Moehrig-Woodard does indeed take a redshirt year in 2018, I still expect to see him on the field early on. And, if he continues to impress, he may be a full time player this fall.