Maryland coach Randy Edsall’s belief is that most freshmen would be better off redshirting so they can take a year to develop physically and acclimate to the responsibilities and competition level in college.
But there are exceptions. Some freshmen — such as wide receiver Stefon Diggs in 2012 — arrive to college already developed, talented and prepared enough to make an immediate contribution.
While no one in this year’s Terps freshmen class has made an impact to the level of Diggs in 2012, players such as outside linebacker Jesse Aniebonam and wide receiver Juwann Winfree have both become contributors and showed glimpses of being able to become even more impactful players in the years to come.
“It kind of just reinforces what you thought during the recruiting process, what you evaluated as players, as people and who they are as students,” Edsall said. “You just see all that coming to fruition. I think it validates the evaluation that you made on those guys.”
Aniebonam has carved out a role as a situational pass rusher.
Considered the fastest and most athletic of Maryland’s linebackers, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Aniebonam has played in all nine of the Terps’ games and has 12 tackles, a half-sack, a pass breakup and several pressures.
Teammates and coaches have said since the summer that Aniebonam, a four-star recruit, has the potential to become a special player for Maryland at outside linebacker, especially as a pass rusher.
Winfree, another four-star prospect, has played in the last six games and has become part of the Terps’ rotation at wide receiver.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Winfree got behind an Indiana defender for a 30-yard touchdown catch on Sept. 27 and has six catches for 64 yards.
Edsall, other coaches and players have also voiced optimism regarding nose tackle David Shaw, tackle Derwin Gray and others such as center Brendan Moore and cornerback Daniel Ezeagwu.
Shaw is the backup nose tackle and the likely heir apparent to senior nose tackle Darius Kilgo.
“You see him getting better in the time he’s getting,” Edsall said of Shaw.
While the rest of the freshmen class will not likely make an impact this season, Edsall and players have spoken highly of how Gray is coming along in practice and about his potential for the future.
Gray is a 6-foot-5, 300-pound former four-star recruit that coaches and players believe has the size, strength, athleticism and skills to be an NFL tackle.
Players also raved about the upside of the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Ezeagwu before the Virginia native suffered a season-ending knee injury this season, and the Terps have highly-rated prospects such as offensive lineman Damian Prince and receiver Will Ulmer that will have an opportunity to compete for roles next year.
“Those are guys that are going to be contributors as they continue to grow and develop,” Edsall said of the freshman class. “And it’s hard for freshmen coming in to the FBS power five conference levels because of the demands of school, the demands of football, and there’s kids that handle it better than others.
"It makes it tough, but it’s good to see those guys being able to [come along]. It’s also good that the older guys are helping them and taking them under their wings and let them know, here’s things you can do to help yourself, which is good.”