COMMENTARY: Freshman Fever


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - The media hype surrounding Roscoe Crosby's arrival at Clemson was
no small thing.


Veteran fans had a hard time recalling the last time a true freshman arriving
on campus caused such a stir. And though he has yet to play a game for the
Tigers, Crosby is considered a key piece to the 2001 puzzle that lies ahead
for Tommy Bowden's team.


His size, speed and ability on the football field have coaches and fans
drooling. The mature manner in which he's handled the media attention, not to
mention the $1.75 million Kansas City dropped on him to play minor league
baseball, has the same people marveling.


Yes, it's been Roscoe Mania since the day he put his signature on a Clemson
letter of intent. Although it won't be the last autograph he ever signs, for
Tiger fans it undoubtedly will be the most important.


But Crosby isn't the only freshman turning heads. Though most of the
attention has been focused on the Union High School product, other players -
like high school teammate Kyle Browning - have made subtle statements of
their own since the beginning of camp.


Browning, along with Crosby, led Union to consecutive Class 3A state
championships his last two years of high school. He did so in a system very
similar to Clemson's, both in alignment and terminology.


That little head start, coupled with his quickness and work ethic, have
thrust the 5-foot-9 running back into the thick of Bowden's considerable
playing rotation.


"I'm anxious to see what happens in the next two weeks or so," Bowden said
Thursday. "He's kind of getting to that stage where maybe there are some
roles we can use him...(Union's) offense is so similar he's really been able
to take off pretty fast..."


Browning is a veteran in one sense, having adjusted to playing in the
Crosby's shadow in high school. But he's far from the only freshman to make
an impression during the first two weeks of camp.


Ben Hall, the tight end from Byrnes High School, also will escape the
redshirt and find himself playing certain roles early in the season. He, like
Browning, seems to work his way into Bowden's post-practice comments on a
daily basis.


Likewise for Airese Currie, the other much-ballyhooed wide receiver prospect.
Currie, though fighting a nagging hamstring problem, has shown enough in camp
to justify his spot on the second team. He (wide alignment) and Crosby (slot)
already are projected as a Millennium version of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.


Even quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, a sure redshirt in 2001, has shown
enough in camp to prompt Bowden's movement of Brian Carr to defensive back.


But for all the flash and dash of the offensive skill players, it may be the
defensive freshmen who ultimately have the most say in Clemson's record this
fall.


Defensive linemen Mo Fountain Trey Tate and Mark Jetton, along with strong
safety David Dunham and linebacker Eric Sampson, all could find themselves
holding important spots on the defensive depth chart once the curtain is
raised Sept. 1.


That group's progress, even more than that of their high-profile offensive
brethren, is most crucial in taking the Tigers from pretender to contender.


How quickly that happens, God only knows. But somewhere in the Bible you'll
find the passage "And a child shall lead them."


Clemson fans are praying that's the case in 2001.

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