To start, let’s define what I mean by newcomer. I do not mean just a freshman or a transfer. A newcomer can be a player who all the sudden has a major impact on his team’s success. The perfect example of this is South Dakota State’s Dallas Goedert.
Goedert’s sophomore season with SDSU was fine enough. He scored three touchdowns and had 484 yards receiving. There was nothing in that season that made anyone think he’d have a monster 2016 season. Then, he goes and destroys everyone in his path. Western Illinois is still feeling the burn after his 204 yards and four touchdown performance.
Who is the next Goedert? This is hard to predict. You’d like to be the guy that says “I saw it coming” but reality tells us that is unrealistic. Only those within the program, strength or position coaches, can tell what type of growth a player has had. To us looking from the outside in, we have to guess based on nothing more than circumstance.
Graduation or injury that allows a player to be elevated to starter. They take the opportunity and never look back.
This is not a ranking but a list of players I think will have a significant impact on their teams.
Be sure to check out my other Missouri Valley Football Previews
Rex Mosley – Indiana State
The Sycamores had a porous rush defense last season. They game up the second most rushing yards per game in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, 184, and gave up the second most rushing touchdowns, 26, in the Valley. Changes were made, most notably at the coaching level. You’re also going to see some changes at the interior line position. One player to look for is Rex Mosley.
The Northern Illinois transfer was a Top 25 recruit coming out of Indiana in 2014. However, he saw limited action during is time with NIU. He’s now in a conference that loves to run, on a team that is in desperate need to stop the run. Expect his name to be called quite a bit throughout the season as teams try to run past the 6’2″ 280 pound junior.
Stanley Jones – North Dakota State
The loss of Greg Menard was a big blow to NDSU’s defense. He’s not the most important player on the defense, but he’s top three. And, being top three on a defense like NDSU’s makes you good enough to be placed on a pre-season All-American list. So, yeah, his loss will be felt. How much, though depends on the development of Stanley Jones.
The junior, and Bismarck native, was slated as Menard’s back-up. He would have seen some reps on the other side of the line, as junior Caleb Butler is slotted to start there, but now the starting spot is his. How long he stays there depends on how well he can produce. He’ll get an early chance to prove his worth as NDSU plays Gage Gubrud and pass happy Eastern Washington on September 9.
Blake Thomas – Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa’s defense is going to be tough. You feel comfortable saying that without even looking at their roster. There is something about the way they play on that side of the ball. The numbers certainly don’t lie. First in the conference in total and pass defense and second in rushing defense. It helps when you have an All-American in Jared Farley running the defense. Blake Thomas, his partner in crime at linebacker, may be another name you come to fear.
Thomas saw limited action in 10 games last season. Most of his production came on special teams or as a back-up linebacker. Now the starting role is his and coaches are impressed with his talent. Thomas, a Waterloo native, could be another homegrown player that thrives in the Panthers ferocious defense. Expect big things out of this junior.
Malik Haynes – Southern Illinois
Interior lineman are the unsung heroes of the defense. Much like their counterparts on the offensive side, their exploits can be overshadowed. It is due in large part to lack of stats. Defensive tackles won’t show up much on the stat sheet because their taking on double-teams or taking out the lead blocking fullback. The dirty work, as they say. However, a defense can live and die by how good those players are at their job. One of those unsung heroes to watch out for is Malik Haynes.
Haynes played in all 11 games last season for SIU, so he isn’t exactly “new” but he’s the lone returning defensive lineman that started at any point last season. He is listed at 6′, 330 pounds on SIU’s website. That’s a big boy. Good luck moving him around. The expectation is the offense will be okay but the defense will need to step up their game if the Salukis expect to make any kind of noise this season. Haynes will have a big hand in that improvement.
Ma’lik Richmond – Youngstown State
This one is here for the wrong reason. It is not because of the positive impact a player could have on his team but more the negative impact. See, Ma’lik Richmond was convicted of rape at the age of 16. He spent time in juvenile dentition for just under a year. He then went to community college, where he didn’t play football, before coming to Youngstown State. Head coach Bo Pelini seeked Richmond out to play football for the Penguins. Richmond had no intentions of playing but decided to walk-on.
His presence on the team has already caused the starting of a petition to remove him from the roster. The Penguins are coming of a FCS Championship Game berth and are picked to finish third in the Valley. Instead of people talking about how they are going to replace two phenomenal pass rushers and a great rushing attack, their energy is focused on this. It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds as we draw closer to the season.