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Freshmen grabbing headlines ahead of ASU opener

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. – College football is back. And there’s a different feeling around Arizona State’s season opener this year.

The focus was firmly on Herm Edwards 12 months ago. Questions swirled nationally and locally as to how quickly he could transition from talking about the NFL on TV to actually coaching at the college level, how he’d manage the team and even how involved he’d actually be on game days.

Those questions have been answered. And now the attention has shifted to the players on the field. Which is what Edwards has said he wanted all along.

One player, in particular, is generating a lot of buzz. Jayden Daniels arrived on campus as one of the most highly touted recruits in recent memory, and has lived up to expectations in a limited sample so far. He did what he was supposed to do in camp, grabbing the starting quarterback job and becoming the first true freshman in program history to do it.

Now it’s just a matter of how seamlessly he can adapt to the college game after dominating high school. And, so far at least, he seems to possess the poise that most successful quarterbacks have.

“I like him,” Edwards paused. “I just like the guy, man. I like his personality. He’s flatline now. Me and him, we do this together a lot – just look at each other, and we kind of feel it. He doesn’t panic.”

Wins and losses will almost certainly be dictated by Eno Benjamin’s ability to replicate has breakout 2018 campaign as one of the nation’s top running backs, and whether or not a slightly more experienced defense can take a step forward. But it’s Daniels’ development and potential to be an electric signal caller for the next four years that really give this season the potential to be an exciting one for Sun Devil fans.

“I can’t wait to see him play,” Edwards admitted. “And I told him ‘every time you come off the field, come see me. Because that’s how it works, you come see me first, we talk and you go over on the headphones, you talk to Coach Likens and you talk to coaches on the sidelines. You come see me, just to make sure you’re alright’.”

Daniels isn’t the only coveted quarterback recruit that could make an impact though. Joey Yellen will serve as his backup, meaning he’s one hit away from stepping in as a true freshman at the game’s most pivotal position as well. And then there’s Ethan Long.

“I’ve dubbed him Captain America,” Edwards reminded everyone. “And everybody knows that’s Captain America. He just does everything for this football team. He’ll do anything for this football team that you ask that guy to do. It’ll be fun to watch him play too.”

Long will see time all over the field. Which means yet another true freshman is likely to play a significant role for Arizona State. They’re going to make the most of his versatility on offense – from fullback to tight end, with the occasional snap at quarterback mixed in too. And playing some defense is certainly on the table as well.

“He reminds me of [John] Lynch,” Edwards said, when asked if Long is similar to anyone he’s ever coached before.

Lynch’s athleticism allowed him to excel at both baseball and football at Stanford, and he ultimately switched from quarterback to safety during his time in Palo Alto. He played for Edwards in the NFL, and put together such a strong pro career that he’s been named a Hall of Fame finalist six times.

In other words, not a bad guy to be compared to.

That all adds up to a lot of new talent taking the field against Kent State in Tempe on Thursday night. Which makes for some very intriguing potential. It also means growing pains as the freshmen get some on-the-job training though.

“A lot of these kids, they haven’t played a real football game yet,” Edwards pointed out. “One thing to have a scrimmage. Great. Now they’re playing against another opponent. How does the speed of the game affect them all of a sudden?

“If you’re a freshman, you’re playing against seniors. You’re playing against guys that have played four years of college football. You have no idea how fast it becomes, and how strong those guys are. They’ve been in the weight room for four years, you’ve been in the weight room for three months. It’s just different and they’ve got to get used to that.”

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