Experience over redshirt: Youngsters making impact for CMU

John Evans, Publisher
Chippewa Country

Following each recruiting class fans wonder who could make an immediate impact with the team.

While a program like Central Michigan would prefer to redshirt players for experience, sometimes players are forced into action. This season has been no exception, and the Chippewas have already seen contributions from a pair of true freshmen.

So far the Chippewas have seen freshmen Robi Stuart and Jacorey Sullivan see the field this season.

This means that they will not be eligible for redshirt, and this year will count towards their eligibility. But, this also means they are getting experience at the Division I level, and that can be a priceless asset.

"Our philosophy is that we are going to play the best players that give us the best chance to win," said CMU head coach John Bonamego. "I don't care how they get here; Walk-on, scholarship, highly recruited. If a player is ready to play and ready to make significant contributions then we will play him."

Sullivan was forced into action with the Chippewas suffering multiple injuries in week two, and played a few snaps at wide receiver. The coaching staff mentioned in camp that Sullivan had been progressing fast, but this was a surprise to see him so early. This most likely was not a situation the staff wanted, but sometimes you have no option. Sullivan was mainly a blocker during his time on the field, and now that the team is getting healthy it's unlikely we will see much more of him until next season.

"You would like to be in a position where you can say you will redshirt all of your true freshmen but there are factors that come into play with that," said Bonamego. "The reason we decided on Sullivan was because we felt he was more physically developed than others and he's got a maturity about him that you maybe wouldn't see from a typical true freshman."

Bonamego added that there is a real difference when attending team meetings and taking reps in practice when you know you will be a part of the game plan as opposed to knowing you won't be playing at all.

"There's a different level of focus and intensity there," he said.

Robi Stuart has been a different story from some of the other true freshmen. Stuart has earned more and more playing time as a defensive lineman after making his debut in week four against Miami (OH).

Prior to the season, the Chippewas lost several defensive linemen to injury. Deshawn Baker-Williams, Dante Cleveland and Josh Eldridge were all lost to season ending injuries. Cleveland and Baker-Williams were both set for a big step forward in their second year with the team, but unfortunately they won't see the field this year. However, that opened up a lane for Stuart, and he's not finding himself right in the thick of things.

"There was a good opportunity for Robi (Stuart). There's a lot of discussion that goes into making the decision to play a true freshman. In Robi's case, we were down on numbers and he was physically ready," Bonamego said. "He's going to play in every game, he's part of that rotation now and he's improving every week."

But as the Chippewas enter week seven of play this Saturday, it's getting to the point where you may not see any more true freshmen see the field. The last thing you want to do is burn a redshirt late in the season, but sometimes there's nothing you can do.

A prime example of that was two years ago when CMU was forced to play Romello Ross late in the season because of injury. Of course, he took full advantage and looked to be a promising player before missing all of 2016 with a knee injury.

"There's going to be a point in the year where it's not worth is to burn the redshirt and we are closing in on that point right now," said Bonamego. "There's always circumstances, but you never know what is going to happen."

Bonamego pointed to a few players that ended up getting a year of eligibility back because of injury including Joe Ostman and Mitch Stanitzek.

Two other true freshmen, Darius Bracy and Brandon Brown, were a pair of athletes that coaches had raved about following fall camp. It seemed there would be a good chance we may see them right away, but at this point in the season it's likely we won't be seeing them.

Brown was more highly recruited, seeing Boston College and Rutgers jump in late in the process. Bracy wasn't as highly recruited, but he's a strong athlete from Mobile, Alabama that can bring a different dimension. Both Brown and Bracy are listed as defensive backs and when asked about Brown, Bonamego said "he's going to be a very good player here."

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