How Two True Freshmen Became Starters on the Offensive Line for Clemson and Ohio State, A Rarity Coaches Desperately Try to Avoid

By Eric Seger on December 29, 2016 at 2:37 pm
How Michael Jordan and Sean Pollard became a pair of true freshmen to start on the offensive line for College Football Playoff teams.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Michael Jordan sat in his chair next to a few of his teammates, his mouth agape and stunned by what he had just heard. No, Ohio State's left guard isn't the only offensive line starter in the Fiesta Bowl who is a true freshman.

“For real? Clemson has one too?” Jordan asked on Thursday at media day.

Yes, Clemson has one too. His name is Sean Pollard and he plays right tackle for the No. 2 Tigers, who face off against Jordan and the No. 3 Buckeyes on Saturday in the College Football Playoff. Unlike Jordan, the first Buckeye to start up front as a true freshman at the start of the season since Orlando Pace, Pollard had to wait until November. He stepped in for Jake Fruhmorgen, who left the lineup due to a shoulder injury. Personal issues and rehab have kept Fruhmorgen out, which left Pollard to take the reins along with Tremayne Anchrum, another freshman.

But Pollard is the main guy at right tackle just like Jordan is at left guard. For two elite programs that recruit with the best annually in college football, the fact two guys who played high school just last year are responsible for holding down the fort in the trenches is as rare as it is difficult.

“It shouldn't happen, honestly,” Urban Meyer said on Thursday. “We had some mistakes and injuries. I'm sure Dabo [Swinney] would say the same thing. Offensive line, if you're starting a true freshman something happened. Some miss somewhere.”

“I know where I was as a true freshman. I could not have done it, I'll tell you that,” Clemson senior center Jay Guillermo said on Thursday.

One of Jordan's teammates on the offensive line shared a similar sentiment.

“I can tell you that where I was freshman year, I wasn’t playing,” guard Billy Price said. “Just mentally, emotionally and physically, you’re not there at all. No chance.”

Demetrius Knox and Matthew Burrell dealt with issues like injuries in recent seasons to thrust Jordan into the spotlight as early as spring practice in March and April. Jordan ran with the opportunity after he enrolled early. Pollard did the same thing albeit midway through the season but arrived at Clemson's campus in January. Ironically, this is the second time in as many season the Tigers have had to depend on a member of their most recent recruiting class to play significant snaps on the line.

“I've been coaching a long time and have never had a guy come in and start. What he's done, to me, he's been outstanding. He's been remarkable.”– Greg Studrawa on Michael Jordan

Clemson's left tackle, Mitch Hyatt, is a true sophomore and started all 15 games last season when the Tigers made the national title game.

“We lost a guy, he comes in and he's gotta start from Day One,” offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell said of Hyatt. “You don't want that to have to happen. We hope we can get our classes scheduled around to avoid it.”

The guy the Tigers lost was Isaiah Battle, who left school due to disciplinary reasons and entered the 2015 NFL Supplemental Draft. The then-St. Louis Rams took him in the fifth round.

So as Meyer said, injuries and other things happened to force the hand of each coach and insert 18- and 19-year-olds into the lineup. They came in highly developed from great high school programs (Plymouth High School in Michigan for Jordan and Pinecrest High in North Carolina for Pollard) and in turn were more ready than the other players at their spots already in the program. Extenuating circumstances further forced their coaches' hands, they moved up out of necessity and thrived.

“It's a situation where we worked hard and he came out as one of the best five. He's got an unbelievable maturity level for a freshman,” Ohio State offensive line coach Greg Studrawa said of Jordan. “I've been coaching a long time and have never had a guy come in and start. What he's done, to me, he's been outstanding. He's been remarkable.”

Meyer said many times in the fall the only other guy he recruited and started on the offensive line as soon as he stepped on campus was Maurkice Pouncey at Florida, now an All-Pro center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“He turned out pretty good. This guy is going to turn out great too,” Meyer said. “But it's unusual, for sure.”

Jordan claims he will be even better next season despite a formidable freshman campaign, which makes sense considering he hasn't quite had a full calendar year in the program. An entire offseason of workouts should allow him to cut more of his baby fat and add more muscle under Mickey Marotti's purview. Pollard feels the same way, though both of their position coaches credit their maturity for the way they've been able to contribute in 2016.

“Sean was very mature for his age, just like Mitch last year. They're very, very mature for their age,” Caldwell said. “They can handle it. Some people can't handle 90,000 people looking at them to do their job.”


“I think Mike's had a little bit different level of maturity about him,” Studrawa said. “For an 18, 19-year-old kid to come into this environment, when you're at Ohio State you're with the best of the best now. All those expectations. He's gotta follow Taylor Decker and those guys before him. There's an expectation level and that's a lot of pressure for a young guy.”

Jordan and Pollard won't face off against one another on Saturday as their teams meet to decide who makes the national championship game. But they will write another chapter in what is already a crazy story.

“It's pretty unheard of for two but it's a cool situation for us, it's an honor to be starting for two great teams,” Pollard said.

“I think it's rare but it's kind of cool,” Jordan said. “Two freshmen offensive linemen have the chance to play in the College Football Playoff. Think about that.”

Yeah, think about that.

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