In the case of the University of Akron football team, youth isn’t wasted on the young.
In fact, it’s not being wasted at all. Zips coach Terry Bowden has been making abundant use of the young men — redshirt freshmen and true freshmen — during the first seven games of the season.
UA’s coaching staff has used 24 freshmen (13 redshirts, 11 true). Nationally, that ranks as the fifth most behind the likes of TCU, Kentucky, UCLA and USC.
Some have had to fill holes when a starter such as a defensive end went down recently, but others figured in Bowden’s plans immediately.
What’s important is that many of them, regardless of their standing, have shown they can play.
In the case of defensive end Alfonso Horner, Albert Presley’s replacement, he has given the team solid play. Against Ohio, Horner contributed seven tackles in the losing effort.
Offensively, running back Conor Hundley (108 yards on 27 carries) hasn’t compiled tons of yardage, but he has scored three touchdowns and shown the ability to run, catch, as well as block. Others, such as Green’s Andrew Pratt (eight catches for 140 yards) have come on of late. And no one this season will be able to question the play of Firestone’s Cody Grice, who has shown the ability to inflict havoc from his noseguard position.
In this respect, the future could be bright for the Zips’ program.
“There’s no looking forward to anything when you are focusing on the task at hand,” Bowden said. “They key is how we can get them in the fire right now and play well and be successful.”
The inexperience is certainly a disadvantage. Bowden and his staff are itching for that second win of the season. But even he can’t deny that the playing time they receive now bodes well down the line, especially as the offensive players mature in Bowden’s system.
But it’s also a meritocracy. There has been little hesitance to play the best player at any given position regardless of class, nor has there been any reluctance on the staff’s part to pull someone who hasn’t lived up to expectations.
“We haven’t said to heck with this year, let’s start building for the future,” he said. “We tried to stay with the best players at each position, trying to get as many wins and trying to ignite some success as far as winning.”
There has been little wrong with quarterback Dalton Williams’ numbers this season, but teams have certainly rattled his cage a little lately.
He has been sacked six times in the past two games against Bowling Green and Ohio. In both games, the offense didn’t run as smoothly and didn’t produce as many points as had been the case in the first five games.
“I think he carried that lingering pain from that ribs injury a little bit more than we thought,” Bowden said. “He’s got to show no signs of memory of that. [The] second part is he’s trying to do too much. Instead of getting us out of a bad play, he’s getting us into a play that he likes better.”
Bowden also believes that Williams reinjured his ribs against Bowling Green, and that might have caused apprehension on his part recently.
He is sure of one thing, however.
“The key is to eliminate what turnovers he had and elevate his game,” Bowden said. “When he has a great game he has a much better chance to win.”
Defensive tackle Nico Caponi (high ankle sprain) and Presley (fractured fibula) are day-to-day, but likely out for the game Saturday against Northern Illinois.
Keith Dambrot is a coach who likes preseason practice as much as his players, but knows it must be done.
Nearly a week into putting the team through the paces, he held an intrasquad scrimmage using officials Thursday morning at Rhodes Arena.
“It’s typical; I didn’t like much really. We tire very quickly because we don’t have many subs,” he said.
Right now, the team is working on conditioning because Dambrot plans to go with a more aggressive style of defensive play with more full-court pressure.
The Zips have theirs nicks and dings already, but guard Brian Walsh is suffering from back issues, something that’s happened before. The situation might bear watching.
George M. Thomas can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.