Forty years ago, the NCAA eliminated freshman ineligibility for good. Freshmen were permitted to play in 1951 during the Korean War, but they were not allowed to compete in the ensuing 20 years on the varsity level until they became sophomores.
Sam Young started a Notre Dame record 50 straight games at offensive tackle.
First Freshman Offensive Lineman To See Action
This is a little unclear. No offensive linemen played in 1972 or 1973, but in 1974 future All-America offensive guard Ernie Hughes was listed with 13 minutes — but on defense. The following year, 1975, future All-America center Dave Huffman also was listed in game action — but as a backup tight end to Ken MacAfee, where Huffman caught one pass for nine yards.
Thus, maybe the safest bet is 1976, when future All-America tackle and 1979 tri-captain Tim Foley appeared in every game.
First Freshman Offensive Lineman To Start
It took 23 years — far and away a record for any one unit at Notre Dame — before 6-7, 310-pound Mike Rosenthal started three games in 1995 at tackle (at Ohio State, USC and at Air Force) when others were injured. Rosenthal was one of three USA Today first-team All-Americans on the offensive line who signed with the 1995 group. The other two were Tim Ridder and Jerry Wisne.
Most Recent Freshmen To See Action
Only one player in the five recruiting classes from 2007-11 saw the field, and that was guard Trevor Robinson after enrolling early for the 2008 spring semester with defensive lineman Sean Cwynar.
Five Best True Freshman Offensive Linemen
1. Sam Young (2006) — Considered the nation’s No. 1 offensive line prospect by most recruiting services, the 6-8, 315-pound Young even beat out quarterback Tim Tebow for Gatorade Player of the Year honors in the state of Florida. He started all 13 games at right tackle for the 10-3 Irish, became the first (and still lone) Notre Dame offensive lineman to start an opener and earned first-team Freshman All-American notice. His 50 consecutive career starts are a school record.
2. Ryan Harris (2003) — In Harris’ first start for the 1-3 Irish, at right tackle, tailback Julius Jones rushed for a school record 262 yards in a 20-14 victory at No. 15 Pitt. Harris started the final eight games while accumulating 215:05 playing time and earning Freshman All-America honors for the 5-7 Irish. The following year he would move to left tackle.
3. Mike Rosenthal (1995) — Saw action in the final 10 regular season games during a 9-2 campaign before getting injured in practice prior to Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. The first Irish freshman to start along the offensive line — highlighted by a 38-10 romp against No. 5 USC, that year’s Rose Bowl champ — he finished with 100:14 playing time that season, the first Notre Dame frosh offensive lineman to reach triple figures.
4. Trevor Robinson (2008) — Just like the top three on the list, Robinson was a USA Today first-team All-America selection coming out of high school. He played in 11 of the 13 games during a 7-6 Irish campaign, with consecutive starts against Boston College, Navy and Syracuse after a knee injury to Chris Stewart.
5. Brad Williams (1996)— One of only five true freshman offensive linemen ever to start in a game, he played on defense through the first half of the season. An injury to Rosenthal suddenly thrust Williams into the starting lineup at guard in romps against Navy and Boston College. He then played defense again in the next two games and for the remainder of his career.
• In the five seasons from 2007-11, Notre Dame recruited 17 offensive linemen, and the only one not red-shirted as a freshman was Robinson in 2008. All five last season were withheld from action to preserve a year of eligibility.
• In addition to Hughes in 1974 and Williams in 1996, two others who played quite a bit on defense as freshmen before becoming stellar offensive linemen were Tom Thayer (1979) and Mirko Jurkovic (1988).
• Until Rosenthal’s emergence in 1995, the most time recorded by a freshman offensive lineman was 53 minutes by Tim Huffman, younger brother of center Dave, for the 1977 national champs.
How About 2012?
The Irish signed only two offensive linemen this past season: tackle Ronnie Stanley (6-6, 285) and center Mark Harrell (6-5, 270). Both likely will follow the red-shirt pattern of freshmen at this position because they will need more physical development before they are primed to play at this level.
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