Freshman football players make immediate impact
This season has not gone well for the Dartmouth football team. The team is in the middle of a disappointing 1-7 campaign that has been riddled with injuries and inconsistent play.
The team has performed well at times, but remains at the bottom of the Ivy League. However, there have been some bright spots, most notably in the promising play of some talented freshmen.
Dartmouth's new offensive scheme this year has made use of a variety of receivers and skill position players, with several '04s among them.
Casey Cramer '04 has started the last three games at tight end. Scott Wedum '04, has become the second-string running back because of injuries and is also the starting kick returner. Tom Finnigan '04 and Jay Barnard '04 often come in at wide receiver in Dartmouth's four- and five-receiver sets. Barnard even led the team in catches last week at Cornell, with seven for 92 yards.
"All four of those guys have really contributed to us this year," said Big Green Head Coach John Lyons. "I think all of those guys have a chance to be really good players down the road."
Lyons is justified in optimism about his new class. In the Big Green's lone win this season, a 31-14 game victory over Holy Cross, all four touchdowns were scored by freshmen -- two by Wedum and two by Finnigan.
Wedum, Barnard, and Finnigan have combined for five touchdowns on the season despite not being full-time starters. Cramer has been equally impressive, making some big catches and wowing the coaches with his blocking ability.
The group has benefited from new offensive coordinator John Perry's pass-oriented scheme.
"It's been really successful," said Barnard in reference to the new offense.
Cramer was equally enthusiastic in his praise of Perry's air-it-out system.
"I love it. I was primarily a blocking tight end in high school," said Cramer, a Madison, Wisconsin native who also played linebacker in high school. "I get out on routes a lot more and catch more passes."
Barnard and Finnigan both scored touchdowns on their first collegiate receptions -- events they call the highlights of their athletic experiences at Dartmouth thus far. The two have recorded 258 yards receiving so far in the season.
"Tom has gotten a chance. He's a smaller guy, he's pretty quick, has pretty good hands," Lyons said. "Jay's bigger, he also has pretty good hands."
Wedum has impressed the coaches with his speed and nifty moves.
Lyons praised Wedum's ability to make catches out of the backfield, citing the Holy Cross game in which Wedum caught two touchdown passes. Wedum said his role in the passing game is a drastic change from last year in high school.
"We used to always run the ball. Here I'm a running back by title. I'm actually more of a receiver," he said.
Wedum has also excelled on the kickoff return team, averaging over twenty yards every time he fields the ball.
"Scott Wedum has done a real good job for us on special teams, particularly returning kicks," Lyons said.
On the defensive side of the ball, '04s are also making an impact, particularly safety Phil Frost. Frost immediately impressed the Dartmouth coaching staff, who speak very highly of him.
He has started every game in 2000, and leads the team in interceptions with two. He has also has 22 tackles.
Frost is an athlete, having played quarterback, safety, and punter in his high school career in Westfield, Massachusetts.
"I like the defensive system here," Frost commented. "There is a lot more reading the offense than in high school."
Frost recalled his interceptions, against Yale and Columbia, as the high points in his freshman football season.
All five outstanding freshmen were optimistic about turning the Dartmouth program around and winning games over the rest of their careers.
"We have high expectations for the future," Frost said, citing the amount of experience that the Class of 2004 has already had in game situations.
Cramer concurred with his teammate.
"We'll be well-experienced and more successful," he said. The coaches "are really giving us a chance. They expect a lot out of us."
Is this the class to turn things around at Dartmouth? Perhaps.
The Big Green have a lot of young players on both sides of the ball, with sophomores and juniors contributing heavily. Despite some growing pains this season, the youngsters are improving daily and giving the coaches and fans of Dartmouth football cause to look forward to upcoming seasons.
Perhaps Tom Finnigan put it best when he said, "we've got lots of potential. Beware of the Big Green in the future."