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McNeese State head coach Matt Viator. (American Press Archives)

McNeese State head coach Matt Viator. (American Press Archives)

Youth movement: McNeese traveling with nine freshmen

Last Modified: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 10:14 AM

By Alex Hickey / American Press

The roster McNeese State takes to South Florida for Saturday’s season opener will be the youngest of coach Matt Viator’s tenure.

As many as nine true freshmen have a chance to get on the field, marking both a change in Viator’s philosophy towards redshirting freshmen en masse and, in his words, serving as a testament to the talent in this class.

“They’re extremely talented,” Viator said. “That statement is true for our entire freshman class this year. We’re very excited about them. We had some tough decisions to make, because there’s even some more of those guys who could come play right now if we needed them.”

The young guns making the trip are defensive backs Carlos Caroll and Austin Pennington; defensive end Jammerio Gross-Whitaker; defensive tackles Antonio McGhee and Anthony Yruegas; offensive linemen Thor Miller and Jalen Smith and wide receivers Kent Shelby and Khalil Thomas.

“Some of them, no question, are going to play,” Viator said. “You’ll probably see three of them on the opening kickoff if we kick off.”

To contrast, there are only three players in McNeese’s current senior class who have never redshirted.

Viator minced no words saying that the injury bugs of the past couple seasons made him more judicious in his usage of non-medical redshirts.

“I’ve been critical of myself. With the injuries we’ve had the past couple years, we redshirted too many guys,” Viator said. “You want to redshirt them all, but you just can’t. You’re not anticipating injuries, but two years ago I turned this into a Division II program because we had all those injuries and I redshirted another 18 kids. You’ve got 10 kids out, and you look up and you’re 28 scholarships light trying to play these games.”

Even with a large group of true freshmen expected to play, Viator still likes many aspects of the redshirting process.

“The advantages are great, especially academically,” he said. “We have to make sure we do a great job keeping the kids we don’t redshirt on track academically.”

The true freshmen will be joined on the field at Raymond James Stadium by several of last year’s redshirts.

Wide receiver Damon Gladney, running back Devin Eaglin, tight end Zach Hetrick, linebacker Kyle Harden, defensive back Shea Nutt and offensive linemen Mason Martin and Taylor Donaldson could all potentially make their first collegiate appearances against the Bulls.

NOTES: Viator said running backs Javaris Murray and Terrell Alfred are out this week. Wide receiver Ernest Celestie is being re-evaluated by doctors Tuesday. “We minimized injuries in camp, I kind of think,” Viator said. “When you consider 95 guys in camp with as long as we were in camp, I’ll take that and the position we’re in right now.”

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