Last week, UVa head coach Mike London announced during his teleconference with the media that seven true freshmen will play in 2015. Whether it be lack of depth, injuries, or performance during camp, these seven first-years will see the field in some fashion this season. Some decisions were no brainers, and a few made those outside the program double take a little bit.
Let's take a closer look at the "seven deadly freshmen."
David Eldridge (Wide receiver)- The injury bug hit the wide receiver position hard during camp, and Eldridge took full advantage of the increased reps. The staff was already on the fence about playing Eldridge this season, but when TJ Thorpe went down with an collarbone injury, the decision became a no-brainer. Eldridge is a prototypical deep threat, and can take the top off of opposing defenses. The Kettle Run product's speed and athleticism makes him the perfect compliment to the bigger possession receivers on the roster. Eldridge still has room to grow as far as route running goes, but the former three-star recruit has a chance to be an ex-factor in the early games. Neither UCLA nor Notre Dame has any film on Eldridge yet, and the talented freshman could catch the first two opponents off guard.
Olamide Zaccheaus (Wide receiver/running back). Say it with me O-LAM-I-DAY ZA-CHEE-US. PA announcers be ware. Like Eldridge, the staff would have loved to have redshirted Zaccheaus in 2015, but the injuries at wide receiver have left them no choice. Zaccheaus came to UVa as a running back, but will spend his time initially as a wide receiver. The 5-8, 190 pound athlete is an electric playmaker with the ball in his hands, and brings a tremendous amount of speed to the offense. Zaccheaus has plenty of talent, but is also learning a brand new position on the fly, while preparing for a top-15 opponent. The PA native will likely rotate back and forth between wide receiver and running back this season in some sort of hybrid role. In addition, Zaccheaus could be a major factor in the return game, especially with Thorpe out of the lineup.
CJ Stalker (Outside linebacker) - This one should be no surprise to anybody. Stalker has been on grounds since January, and is in prime position to grab the second starting outside linebacker spot, opposite Zach Bradshaw. Stalker started out his high school career as an OLB, but shifted inside towards in the latter part of his tenure at Lakota West. The former four-star recruit has huge shoes to fill, taking over for Daquan Romero and Max Valles, and does not posses the pass rushing ability of either former Virginia 'backer. What Stalker posses however is great tackling technique and a high football IQ. At 6-2, 225 pounds Stalker comes in with decent size for a college linebacker, and has been in the strength and conditioning program for eight months. Stalker may take his lumps while learning on the job, but the Ohio native will likely be a cornerstone of the Cavalier defense for years to come.
Dominic Sheppard (Middle linebacker)- While it would have been nice to create some space between Sheppard and Micah Kiser, the former may be too talented to keep off the field. Sheppard was locked into a tight battle with fellow blue-chip middle linebacker Jahvoni Simmons, but a shoulder injury to Simmons has allowed the former Wisconsin commit to grab the inside track. The former top-20 inside linebacker will start out the season as Kiser's backup, and could potentially push the redshirt sophomore for increased playing time. Kiser spent his freshman season as an important player on special teams, and Sheppard can definitely carve out a role for himself on the kick and punt coverage teams.
Eric Gallon (Outside linebacker)- This one may be a little surprise on the surface, but depth at outside linebacker is a major concern. Gallon is probably fourth in the pecking order behind Bradshaw, Stalker, and Mark Hall, but the speedy true freshman will add valuable depth to the linebacker corps. The Florida native is a little undersized, at 215 pounds, and could struggle at times as he gets acclimated to the college game. A redshirt year could have done him a lot of good, but the Hoos really don't have a ton of bodies to turn to at outside linebacker. Like Sheppard, look for Gallon to make an impact on special teams this fall.
Juan Thornhill- (Free safety)- While comparing any true freshman to former UVa great Anthony Harris may be a bit premature, Thronhill's game closely resembles that of the current Minnesota Vikings safety. Like Harris, Thornhill is a former high school quarterback, and brings an extremely high football IQ to the secondary. If there's one thing that Tenuta looks for from his safeties, it is intelligence, and Thornhill has that in spades. Thornhill began camp as a third string safety, and has rapidly moved up the depth chart according to reports. While Quin Blanding will be the quarterback of the defense for the next two years, Thornhill will likely pick up the torch and run with it as soon as the All-American moves on. There is a certain degree of adjustment to the college game for every true freshman, but Thornhill will endure a bigger transition than most. Thornhill played in the lowest classification in the state of Virginia, and will now take on UCLA and Notre Dame in the first two games… Talk about a huge adjustment.
Myles Robinson (Cornerback)- This one was also a bit of a head scratcher. Robinson is a plenty talented player, but cornerback might be UVa's deepest unit. Tra Nicholson, Maurice Candy, and Tim Harris will get the lion's share of the reps, along with veterans Divante Walker and Kirk Garner. In addition, redshirt freshman Darious Latimore is eligible this fall, and has looked good in training camp. The staff obviously feels that the former Good Counsel product can contribute, whether it be on defense or special teams.