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The Year of the Freshman

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First-year players across UW athletics are set to make their presences felt this fall.

Freshman wide receiver Danny Davis.
Freshman wide receiver Danny Davis.
Jake Kocorowski

For Wisconsin’s fall sports, 2017 may very well go down as the Year of the Freshman.

When the Week 1 football two-deep was announced on Sunday, four first-year players found themselves on the list, leading to a gaggle of crack B5Q football staff salivating uncontrollably at the true freshman talent plying their trade at Camp Randall.

Jack Coan was named the No. 2 quarterback behind redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook. Big-play threat wideout Danny Davis III made the top four receivers. Long-snapper Adam Bay got the starting nod on special teams. And, most impressively, Jonathan “Beast Mode” Taylor, who has been turning heads all camp, was listed with Bradrick Shaw and Pitt transfer Chris James as an “OR” for the starting nod at running back.

For a team with aspirations of a Big Ten West crown and (at least) a New Year’s Six bowl, this many freshmen in the two-deep, particularly at the skill positions, is big news.

Traditionally, Wisconsin’s model in football has been to identify undervalued talent and develop that talent above its perceived level. While there are plenty of exceptions that prove the rule, the Badgers try to redshirt their freshmen when they can to give them time to develop physically and adjust to the college game.

If all four players hold their current positions, all will see the field at some point in 2017. All have, at least to this point, demonstrated enough ability that the coaching staff believes they can contribute to a big-time college football team on Saturdays (or Friday, depending on the week).

As a scholarship long-snapper, Bay was expected to start early. (Author’s question to commentariat: what nickname are we going with here? Something along the lines of “The Red Snapper” or something a little more Berman-esque, like “Old” Bay or “Sittin’ on the Dock of the” Bay?)

A four-star recruit, Davis comes with Madison with a not-insignificant amount of National Signing Day hype. His performance in camp has exceeded already high expectations, but his presence in the two-deep also speaks to the lack of depth at the wide receiver position. With senior wideout George Rushing sidelined with a left-leg injury and redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor out with a face, receiver is painfully young and thin early in the season.

Paul Chryst, Poet:

Coan is, theoretically, the least likely to play of the bunch, but Hornibrook didn’t make it through a full season last year and it’s awfully hard for a starting quarterback to get through 12 (13? 14?) games.

Running back is deep for this year’s Wisconsin squad, but by all accounts, Taylor has been an absolute monster in camp (hence the D’Cota Dixon bestowed nickname). Whether in a featured role or as a change-of-pace back, Taylor will see the field in 2017 and I predict he swings at least one game.

Bank on it: if Wisconsin returns to Indianapolis in December, the class of 2021 will have played a role in getting the Badgers there.

It’s also not only the football team where youth is being served.

Over at the Field House, six true freshmen on the No. 6-ranked volleyball team saw time during Big Ten/ACC Challenge wins over Louisville and No. 11 North Carolina over the weekend.

Middle blocker Dana Rettke led the team in kills and blocks in both matches. Setter Sydney Hilley stepped right into the unenviable challenge of filling the shoes of all-time Badgers great Lauren Carlini, leading the team in assists both games. On Monday, both players received All-Big Ten awards, including a Co-Player of the Week for Rettke.

For the volleyball team, the success of the No. 2-ranked recruiting class will go a long way toward determining the fate of a team with its eyes towards a deep postseason run.

With preseason All-Big Ten outside hitter Molly Haggerty on the shelf for at least the next few weeks, Rettke and others will need to pick up the offensive slack. Hilley’s success in replicating at least some of Carlini’s production and floor leadership will be a critical factor in how well the Badgers do in a stacked Big Ten.

Like their football peers, if Wisconsin volleyball makes it back to the Elite Eight, it will be in no small part due to a huge year from the new kids in Madison. For both teams, success lies in 2017 being the Year of the Freshman.