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Rutgers Football VOTE: Most surprising freshman performance

Kent State v Rutgers
Johnson was a savior of the 2011 offensive line.
Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

Wednesday was National Threading the Needle Day. If you prefer Culinarians Day, we can work with that also, as we branch out from hot dogs only a week ago. This week’s poll is again meant to bring out excitement, but more of the unexpected variety. Last week you voted on the most hyped prospects when the arrived at Rutgers, but football is a team game and sometimes players surprise even the pundits when they arrive on campus. Or even the team leaders ...

In basketball, players are expected to contribute as freshmen, but not as much in football. Every recruiting class has a few players who people expect to contribute early and blow the doors off, but how about those lesser guys who surprise even the most in the know fans? We had one comment a while back that Jamree Kromah will be a stud immediately. Perhaps Robin Jutwreten will. I’d surely sign up for a surprising Avery Young lining up in the opposite dime cornerback spot from Tre Avery in 2018. Is Christian Izien the next Janarion?

There’s surely recency bias in this week’s poll because in prior years, did we really have an idea who were the unheralded recruits? If you want to argue walk-ons, drop them in the comments. So vote from the list below on who had the most surprising freshman campaign in recent Rutgers Football history. Get a little help from another true underdog story along the way.

Chad Schwenk. Several true freshman QBs have made their mark; Ryan Cubit did surprise many when he got the nod over Ryan Hart (talk about a mistake in hindsight) and Chas Dodd oddly took over for Tom Savage, but no one could have expected Chad Schwenk to contribute as a true freshman in 1999. Even on a bad team, it’s almost impossible to guess which of these stat lines came from future NFL starter Mike McMahon who had started two years on the banks and the skinny freshman from Whitehall, PA: 66-146-989-5 TD-7 INT OR 72-125-845-3 TD-4 INT.

Devraun Thompson was a local product from Piscataway who didn’t come in with a lot of hype. By midway through his freshman year, Thompson was the starting middle linebacker. He had 57 tackles including an 11 tally against Pittsburgh. He manned the middle linebacker spot extremely well for the rest of his career.

Jeremy Ito. A two-star kicker out of California, really? That’s going to turn your team around? “The Judge” hit 15-24 on field goals and 28-29 on XPs after the team was below 50% on field goals the two prior years. The rest of course is history.

Ron Girault. I may not have known that much about college recruiting back in 2003, but when I saw Girault was only a two-star prospect out of St. Joseph’s Montvale, I knew that made absolutely no sense. Ron started at safety as a true freshman in an up and down campaign for the Scarlet Knights, but fans knew the team was on the rise.

Courtney Greene. Several recruiting services didn’t even have Greene rated as a scholarship player for the 2005 Rutgers recruiting class and yet he started from game one at safety alongside Girault on the first Rutgers Bowl team in almost 30 years, just the second in school history. His 116 tackles led the team as a freshman before starting all four years.

Steve Beauharnais. Steve was a three-star recruit but he joined a loaded linebacking corps that had produced a steady diet of NFL talent in the middle of the Schiano regime. Beauharnais started playing as a defensive end just to get on the field as a true freshman before moving into the middle linebacker spot he manned for three years.

Mohamed Sanu. Due to his age, Mohamed was not even eligible to play high school football as a senior, he was only allowed to practice. So you would have expected him to be a little rusty, right? Instead Sanu was arguably the best Rutgers player on the 2009 team regardless of position, amazing considering he wasn’t even brought in to be a wide receiver. He caught 51 passes for 639 yards and rushed for another 346 yards (second on the team in all three categories).

Kaleb Johnson. It’s very rare that a true freshman starts on the offensive line, especially at right tackle. Even superman Anthony Davis began his career at guard, but Johnson came in and was the biggest difference in an offensive line that allowed an NCAA leading 61 sacks the year before, and turned into a solid unit on a resurgent bowl team. Johnson was no flash in the pan as he ultimately started at three different positions during an illustrious four year career.

Janarion Grant. When your first career touch goes 100 yards for a touchdown, it’s hard to burst on the scene better than that. Grant was a solid three-star prospect who was not recruited more highly due to his size and not being ready to contribute at wide receiver quite yet. Grant also contributed two tide changing punt returns (one for TD) against Arkansas in a stunning Rutgers comeback. Though he added no offensive stats in 2013, his ability in the return game impacted games from Day 1.

Tyreek Maddox-Williams. After three other linebackers enrolled early, Maddox-Williams was the third string strong-side linebacker in Chris Ash’s first season, barely a three star recruit per 247. After Greg Jones was badly injured and Najee Clayton disgruntled, Maddox-Williams stepped in as a true freshman to start the remainder of the season, tallying 47 tackles. After a knee injury, he’s back in 2018 as a redshirt sophomore.

Go vote and leave us thoughts in the comments section because fans could either feel someone should have been on this list because their performance was better than I thought (Markis Facyson a two-star for example) OR they were less heralded of a recruit than I gave credit for (i.e. Ray Rice). Who burst on the scene unexpectedly more than anyone in recent memory?

Good Luck!


Who surprised the most as a true freshman for RU Football?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Chad Schwenk
    (5 votes)
  • 4%
    Devraun Thompson
    (10 votes)
  • 7%
    Jeremy Ito
    (18 votes)
  • 2%
    Ron Girault
    (5 votes)
  • 8%
    Courtney Greene
    (20 votes)
  • 2%
    Steve Beauharnais
    (5 votes)
  • 38%
    Mohamed Sanu
    (93 votes)
  • 3%
    Kaleb Johnson
    (8 votes)
  • 30%
    Janarion Grant
    (72 votes)
  • 1%
    Tyreek Maddox-Williams
    (3 votes)
239 votes total Vote Now

Feel free to throw in expectations of who will join this list from the 2018 freshman class!