What Cal true freshmen will contribute earliest?
Who are the newcomers that can make an impact for the Golden Bears?
RollOnYouChairs: So, when I look at who could contribute next year, it’s from a combo of depth of each position group, each player’s characteristics, and whether or not they are here for spring ball. There are nine spring enrollees: Eight true freshmen (Terry, Barth, Hisatake, Lange, Swinney, Rutchena, Calhoun and Higgins) plus FSU Junior transfer Raymond Woodie III. Cal is surprisingly well-set at most position groups even with the newcomers. If anything, I’d say that the combination of available guys on the DL plus the talent of newcomers (namely Calhoun, Wilkins, and Elarms-Orr) provides opportunities for someone to jump up the depth chart.
The five players that really stand out, due to the combo of talent, depth charts, and spring ball, are:
J Michael Sturdivant: the consensus four-star recruit is 6’3” tall, making him one of the 5 tallest receivers on roster – however, the only receiver in his height range with game experience is Trevon Clark (6’4”), who is talented but also dropped a few catchable balls in his time. Sturdivant has big-play ability and could be a huge help in the red zone, along with our increasingly-talented TE rotation. He is not on campus for spring ball (none of the freshmen WR are), so we might be missing the full potential – but we will still see a super talented freshman take the field barring some unforeseen circumstances.
Jermaine Terry: Terry, also a consensus 4* and ranked as high as the #1TE-Y by ESPN and #5 TE by 247, is a perfect TE for Bill Musgrave’s pro-style system. He came on campus as an early enrollee and is already the heaviest tight end (6’4”, 275), beating out Colin Moore and Elijah Mojarro by a whopping 25 pounds. Considering the heavy use of tight ends in Musgrave’s offense, plus Terry’s size and elite talent, he is sure to see the field this year and could easily become our top blocking tight end by the end of the season, if not in the first few games.
Akili Calhoun AND/OR Derek Wilkins. Both defensive ends enter a rotation where there are only 3 returning players on roster, although there are other players listed as either OLB or DL on roster that can flex into the DE position. Wilkins seems more talented to my eye and has a much better offer list, covering the entire Pac-12 and national programs like Michigan and Northwestern. Calhoun managed an impressive offer list and resume as well, ranking as high as the #30 DE by Rivals and the #17 WDE by 247. He gets the added benefit of being here for spring and checking in at a full 6’4”, 270, having put on what looks like 25 pounds compared to his listed weight out of high school. He may or may not see the field – but if he does, I think he’ll make a solid impact. (Don’t sleep on Kaleb Elarms-Orr, who could also see the field given his talent)
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Raymond Woodie III: the junior FSU transfer was ranked as high as the #9 Safety in the country and 157th overall by ESPN coming out of high school in 2019 and has real-world playing experience from his time at FSU. The only other safeties on roster that saw significant playing time in the past few seasons are Elijah Hicks, Craig Woodson, and Daniel Scott. The Safety depth chart seems pretty wide-open, at least for the second string, and Woodie could be a great role player or even jump up the depth chart. He also has the advantage of being here for spring.
Note: The depth chart at Safety could make room for one of the other freshmen recruits, if they can showcase their talents enough. Hunter Barth is an early enrollee and comes in with solid size (6’2”, 210), floating around the 55th-best position recruit by the various services (which is on the cusp of being a role-playing freshman, even if it’s for a handful of games not to burn the redshirt). Fatuvalu Iosefa will arrive in the fall, but was not as highly recruited and has a smaller frame (6’0”, 170). One of them might see the field just because of the depth chart, if only for a handful of games – and my money would be on Barth, should that happen.
Nick Kranz: I'd say that as a rule, I'm generally pretty skeptical about true freshmen contributing in their first year in the program unless they're the kind of can't-miss-5-star-uber-talent that everybody can see coming. You know, your Marshawns and Jahvids and DeSeans. So I tend to instead look at which position groups are thin enough that a true freshman might have to contribute by default.
And thanks to everybody on the roster getting granted another year of eligibility thanks to COVID, those positional groups with questionable depth are rarer than usual. But like RollOnYouChairs said, I think that Jermaine Terry is a good shout. His recruiting profile is strong enough that he's a solid candidate based on talent. Meanwhile, Cal has some established veteran tight ends (Jake Tonges, Gavin Reinwald) who are solid but not necessarily frequent targets in the passing game. There's space available if Terry can handle his blocking assignments for somebody who can bring more consistently explosive play to the position.
Piotr T Le: Since the usual suspects have been named (ie. Terry due to talent and depth) let me be the odd man out and say that Bill Musgrave's handpicked QB: Kai Millner will make some noise as a possible back-up QB leapfrogging Baldwin guys. Musgrave's offense looks to utilize QB's athleticism to move the pocket around forcing a variety of launch points for the ball, as well as creativity to "make something happen" if there is a break-down in scheme/protection. Kai has shown ability to do both in HS, of course, we already have a QB in waiting to has a similar profile of being able to make off-platform throws and make plays with his feet: [Jaden] Casey. Odds are Kai will red-shirt but I wouldn't be surprised if Kai made the back-up job competition last till Week 1 of the season.
Editor: Note that this response was written prior to Jaden Casey’s announcement that he would be entering the transfer portal.
Avinash Kunnath: Cal is mostly set at defensive back, but I expect Kaleb Higgins to make some noise as a potential two-deep talent. Replacing Camryn Bynum is likely to be a tall task, so we could see a lot of cornerbacks fight to win that position. Higgins one of those players who can definitely get the reps needed to evolve into future seasons as a lockdown DB. Higggins's height and NFL size at corner already give him a physical edge that his predecessors at corner lacked, making him a very strong threat to get into the starting mix early.