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.
Michael Floyd made an immediate impact in 2008 and holds the Irish freshman records in catches (48), receiving yards (719) and TD receptions (7).
First Freshman WR To See Action
It took four years before a freshman wideout made an appearance. During Dan Devine’s first season in 1975, Kris Haines caught a two-point conversion against USC off a halfback pass from Al Hunter in a 24-17 Irish defeat. Haines played behind sophomore Ted Burgmeier, a converted QB who would shift to cornerback his final two seasons.
First Freshman To Start
In 1979, the 6-4 Tony Hunter from Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller caught a 31-yard pass on the second play to open the season, a 12-10 upset of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He was considered a freak for his time with his combination of height and speed, but two years later he would move to tight end and eventually become the 12th pick in the 1983 NFL Draft.
Most Recent Freshmen To See Action
In Brian Kelly’s first season, early enrollee TJ Jones became the first Irish freshman to grab touchdown passes in the first two games of the season, a victory against Purdue (23-12) and a loss to Michigan (28-24). He finished the year with seven starts, 23 catches, 306 yards and three TDs.
Five Best True Freshman WRs
1. Michael Floyd (2008) — The recent first-round pick holds the freshman receiving standards in catches (48), receiving yards (719) and TDs (7) — despite missing three games with an injury. His first career catch was a 22-yard TD against San Diego State in a hard fought 21-13 victory in the opener. He caught 10, two for scores, in a four-overtime loss to Pitt. His absence from the lineup was conspicuous in a shocking loss to Syracuse (24-23) and in a 38-3 thumping at USC.
2. Tony Hunter (1979) — Mentioned earlier, Hunter grabbed 27 passes for 690 yards — a phenomenal 25.6 yards per catch — and two scores. Many of the freshman’s grabs during the 7-4 season were of the acrobatic variety that left plenty of jaws agape.
3. Tim Brown (1984) — His 28 catches broke Hunter’s freshman standard and stood for 23 years, although the 12.1 yards per catch by the future Heisman winner was not as eye-popping as Hunter’s. He made a huge impact when the Irish finished the regular season with victories at LSU (30-22), at Navy (18-17), Penn State (44-7) and at USC (19-7), and his first career score came on a reverse at USC.
4. Raghib Ismail (1988) — This isn’t about only stats. During the march to the national title, Ricky Watters was the leading receiver with 16 catches, while Ismail had 13, the last a 29-yard score in the Fiesta Bowl. However, his mere presence changed how defenses could align, and The Rocket made game-changing plays almost every week, highlighted by four catches for 97 yards in the 31-30 upset of No. 1 Miami.
5. Maurice Stovall (2002) & Duval Kamara (2007)— During the 8-0 start under first-year head coach Tyrone Willingham, Stovall had his share of huge plays and made the cover of Sports Illustrated with his 15-yard TD catch in the 21-17 victory against the Spartans. His 18 catches averaged 17.3 yards.
Kamara broke Brown’s record for freshman receptions with 32 (357 yards), and also set a new standard with four TD catches, which would be broken by Floyd a year later. Unfortunately, Kamara racked up the numbers during a 3-9 campaign.
• Next to running back, this is the most likely position where a freshman usually makes an impact for the Irish. Among others who have started or made game-changing plays in their freshmen year were Joe “Small Wonder” Howard (1981), Milt Jackson and Mike Haywood (1982), Lake Dawson (1990), Derrick Mayes (1992), Joey Getherall (1997), Golden Tate (2007, although overshadowed by Kamara) and Jones (2010).
• Howard didn’t play until the second half of the 1981 season, but caught a school record 96-yard TD against Georgia Tech. His 17 catches during that 5-6 year were good for 463 yards, almost identical to Michigan superstar freshman Anthony Carter’s 17 catches for 462 yards as a freshman in 1979.
• In 1983, Notre Dame signed Parade magazine national player of the year Alvin Miller. The 6-4 phenom won the Missouri state titles in track for the 100 meters, 200 meters, 110 hurdles and 300 hurdles. He caught only two passes during the regular season, but in a 19-18 win versus Boston College in the Liberty Bowl, his three catches included a 13-yard TD. Injuries thereafter never enabled him to get his football career off the ground.
• Mayes’ first three catches of his freshman year in 1992 were touchdowns. His 10 catches averaged 27.2 yards.
• One of the great “what if” questions in the school’s football history is what could have been had freshman Randy Moss teamed with the senior Mayes in 1995 during a 9-2 Irish regular season. Moss committed to Notre Dame and was the crown jewel of its No. 1-ranked recruiting class, but was denied admission for various reasons, including involvement in a brutal fight at his high school.
How About 2012?
Although it was a bit of a surprise that DaVaris Daniels didn’t play last season as a freshman, we anticipate that at least one of the three incoming frosh will be in the rotation this year.
At the boundary side (W), vacated by Floyd, fifth-year senior John Goodman was lauded by the staff for his improvement this spring and was named a captain for the Blue-Gold Game. However, behind him Daniel Smith has not caught a pass in his first two seasons and former QB Luke Massa was scheduled for surgery on a torn ACL. That puts 6-2, 205-pound Justin Ferguson in good position to play the physical position, especially because Kelly referred to him as “a very physical kid, a heck of a blocker.”
Out wide (X), Jones and Daniels basically seem to be co-starters, so Chris Brown could be in a position similar to Daniels last year. The South Carolina track star might need more time to develop, especially after missing a good portion of his senior year with an injury.
Still, the defensive line and wide receivers/slot appear to be the two most favorable position at Notre Dame in 2012 for a freshman to play.