Are true freshmen more ready for the college game? TCU’s team may answer that

Frog Talk with Drew Davison and Mac Engel

TCU beat writer Drew Davison and columnist Mac Engel answer questions and get story ideas from Frogs fans about the upcoming football season.
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TCU beat writer Drew Davison and columnist Mac Engel answer questions and get story ideas from Frogs fans about the upcoming football season.

True freshmen are more prepared these days to step into college football and hold their own. Or at least it seems.

You don’t need to look further than TCU for proof.

Frogs cornerback Kee’yon Stewart started in his college debut last Saturday, and was named to Pro Football Focus’ Big 12 defensive team of the week following the season-opening 39-7 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

Stewart had two pass breakups, including a tipped ball that led to an interception. His only blemish came when he was beat on a 36-yard pass play that set up UAPB’s lone score of the night.

In the end, Stewart became another freshman where the college football stage isn’t “too big.”

“Kee’yon, besides giving up that big play, I thought he played really poised and confident for his first game,” senior safety Vernon Scott said afterward. “I really liked that he played confident. I know he’s only going to get better.

“I know his confidence is going to raise. I know it’s his first game. He’s a freshman. He’s nervous out there, but he impressed me. He’s pretty confident. I told him, ‘You’re going to mess up, but just go full speed.’”

Stewart got the starting opportunity when senior cornerback Julius Lewis went down with an injury days before the opener. Lewis is expected to miss two to three weeks, so Stewart will likely get another start on Sept. 14 at Purdue.

Somewhat ironically, Lewis talked about freshmen being more ready than ever before his injury. He was in that situation coming out of Mansfield High in 2015, playing in 12 games with four starts. TCU entered this season with two true freshmen as the top backups at cornerback in Stewart and Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson.

“I definitely think athletes that are coming out of high school now are more prepared and equipped at learning what they need to do to play Division I football,” Lewis said. “Definitely things have changed.”

It extends beyond Stewart and Tomlinson.

Defensively, linebacker Dee Winters had four tackles in his debut, and safety Nook Bradford had two tackles for loss.

Offensively, true freshman quarterback Max Duggan handled himself well in the opener. He was under center for TCU’s three TD drives. Running back Darwin Barlow scored a rushing TD.

And, on special teams, kicker Griffin Kell had three touchbacks on eight kickoffs and drilled a 35-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

Coach Gary Patterson liked what he saw from the freshmen, namely Stewart and Duggan, but he also knows more inexperienced players are prone to mistakes.

As he said about Stewart earlier this week, “He was OK. For a freshman he gave up the one long pass play and he was also beat on Trevone Moehrig’s interception, but luckily we had a guy that was in the middle of the field.

“For a freshman thrown in his first ball game, I was excited about his first opportunity. It’s a long season but to actually get in a ball game and be able to hold up, because they challenged him two to three times, I thought he did a great job for his first time playing college football.”

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