Freshman Phenoms: Looking at One Incoming Player From Each Big Ten Team Who Could Make A Splash in 2018

By David Wertheim on May 12, 2018 at 8:45 am
Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons

While Ohio State's 2018 class finished No. 2 in the nation, featured 14 top-100 players and is the foundation for another championship run, the rest of the Big Ten schools also picked up players who can make an impact from day one. Let's take a look at one of those players from each Big Ten team.

Penn State: Defensive End/Linebacker Micah Parsons

This name should be familiar to Ohio State recruitniks. Parsons had a wacky recruitment in which he was committed to Penn State, decommitted, trended to Ohio State, then to Nebraska, then ended up where it all started and signed with the Nittany Lions. 

While the talent is undeniable, off-field issues have been a major cause for concern for Parsons. However, if he can keep his actions under control, he has the potential to terrorize Big Ten offenses for the next 3-4 years. 

Parsons was excellent in Penn State's Blue-White Game this spring. Here's a good look at what Parsons brings to the Nittany Lion defense. 

Nebraska: Quarterback Adrian Martinez

Another name familiar to Ohio State fans due to the Emory Jones saga, Martinez journey led him from Tennessee to Nebraska, as he joined the California pipeline the Huskers have built so well the last few years. 

A four-star, Martinez is coming off of an injury that led him to miss major time. However, with the departure of starter Tanner Lee to the NFL, and with Martinez entering the program as an early enrollee, the opportunity is there. Martinez's main competition is redshirt freshman Tristan Gebbia and sophomore Patrick O'Brien, but if Martinez is as good as advertised, he has a chance to do some damage as a true freshman gunslinger.

Michigan State: Athlete Xavier Henderson

We're noticing a theme here, aren't we? Ohio State seemed to be in on all of these players, and perhaps they will come back to bite the Buckeyes in the end.

Henderson is the first player on this list from the Buckeye State, and it seemed as though Ohio State wasn't interested in taking him in their 2018 class (at least from the outside view). In typical Mark Dantonio fashion, Henderson wound up signing with the Spartans and was in East Lansing as an early-enrollee this spring. 

With the ability to potentially play multiple positions, Henderson is an intriguing prospect. It appears he will begin his career as a defensive back, but the potential is always there to move him to the offensive side of the ball if necessary. Nevertheless, Ohio State fans will almost certainly see Xavier Henderson playing against the Buckeyes on November 10.

Michigan: Linebacker Cam McGrone

With starting linebacker Mike McCray off to the NFL, the opportunity is there for the former four-star Cam McGrone to slide right in. 

Despite a vicious knee injury in his junior year of high school, McGrone came back his senior year to record 75 tackles and two sacks to become one of the few gems of Michigan's lackluster 2018 recruiting class.

Even though he is not an early enrollee, McGrone is expected to contribute right away when he arrives on campus in June.

We could see this matchup for years to come:

Purdue: Wide Receiver Rondale Moore

Moore is Purdue's highest-rated recruit, and for good reason. The electric wide receiver- who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash- has the ability to stretch the field and is an incredibly valuable weapon for coach Jeff Brohm. 

Ohio State was in on Moore- as was Texas, where he was once committed- but the Boilermakers ultimately won out for his services and will likely be very happy with the result in the end. 

Illinois: Center Verdis Brown

Yet another player Ohio State was in on (surprise!), Brown decided to stay home and commit to the Illini, as one of Lovie Smith's first big-time signees. For any football program, from pee-wee all the way to the NFL, the offensive line is extremely key and Brown figures to be right in the mix as a candidate for early playing time as an early enrollee.

The four-star attended IMG Academy last year, further improving his football skills as he practiced and played against some of the nation's top competition as he prepares for life in the Big Ten. He joins fellow big-time offensive line prospect Reuben Unije as players Lovie Smith hopes will be stalwarts on the Illinois offensive line for the next few years.

Northwestern: Running Back Isaiah Bowser

Usually, Mark Dantonio and Michigan State are all over these type of players: Ohio kids who the Buckeyes don't take but are certainly good enough to play Big Ten Football. This time, however, Northwestern landed one as three-star running back Isaiah Bowser pledged to the Wildcats.

Out of Sidney, Ohio, Bowser will attempt to replace star Justin Jackson, who is now with the Los Angeles Chargers of the NFL. Bowser will compete with another Ohio kid, former LaSalle (Cincinnati) running back Jeremy Larkin, among others, for the position. Bowser will certainly be in the mix, as he was an early enrollee and present for spring workouts.

Iowa: Defensive End John Waggoner

With five-star A.J. Epenesa signing last year, and playing a role as a true freshman, the Hawkeyes hope that Waggoner can provide the other bookend to a solid defensive line here in the next few years.

The top-rated player from the state of Iowa, Waggoner will obviously hope to shine for his in-state team and lead the Hawkeyes back to a NY6 bowl game, where they were just a few short years ago. 

 Wisconsin: Athlete Aron Cruickshank

Another familiar name for Ohio State fans, Cruickshank comes from Erasmus Hall, the same school that produced Buckeyes Curtis Samuel, Jahsen Wint, and Matt Jones.

Cruickshank is known for his extreme versatility. In addition to playing wide receiver, Cruickshank was a read-option quarterback who created headaches for opposing defenses. His Hudl mixtape name was "2 Fast For You" and Wisconsin, a team not known for its blazing speed, is expected to get a burner here. He made a big splash during Wisconsin spring practice, as he was too an early enrollee.

Maryland: Defensive Tackle Austin Fontaine

The Terrapins had nine early-enrollees this cycle, but Fontaine was not one of them. But what makes him so special? 

With a lofty ranking, and a lofty size, Fontaine is a run-stuffing defensive tackle who should create matchup problems for opposing offenses. With former five-star Byron Cowart coming in for Maryland this year at defensive end, the Terrapins could be scary on the defensive line coming up very soon.

In addition to his on-field skills, the addition of Fontaine and offensive guard Evan Gregory allows Maryland a pipeline back into DMV powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, where programs such as Ohio State have poached players such as Chase Young in recent years.

Minnesota: Wide Receiver Rashod Bateman

Similar to what Rondale Moore brings to Purdue, Bateman is a rarity for Minnesota in that he is an elite receiver with speed (although not as fast as Moore)

With coach P.J. Fleck at the helm, the Gophers have not been shy on the recruiting trail, and it immediately paid dividends, plucking Bateman out of Georgia. While he is not an early enrollee, Bateman will provide an immediate spark for Minnesota's new quarterback, whomever that may turn out to be.

Indiana: Running Back Ronnie Walker

Indiana's highest-rated signee this cycle, Walker will join a relatively bare running backs room. While Ohio native Morgan Ellison has some experience from last year- rushing for 749 yards- the opportunity is there for Walker to earn some early playing time, especially since he was on campus as an early-enrollee. 

Walker impressed in spring ball, and with just a handful of scholarship running backs on the Indiana roster, the Virginian has a real chance to make an impact on Saturday's in 2018.

Rutgers: Wide Receivers

The Scarlet Knights signed three really good wide receivers in the 2018 class: Jalen Jordan, Eddie Lewis, and Paul Woods. With Jordan and Lewis already being on campus and having the chance to work with returning quarterback Giovanni Rescigno and fellow freshman Artur Sitkowski, the Rutgers quarterbacks will have some shiny new toys to work with as Chris Ash tries to move Rutgers from the Big Ten basement.

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