FLORENCE — It’s a long way from playing Class 1A high school football to starting for one of the elite teams in Division II.
But North Alabama safety Floyd Jones said he hasn’t let being a true freshman slow him down this season.
“I came in with the mindset that I could play with anybody,” said Jones, who was playing quarterback at R.A. Hubbard a year ago. “I felt like I was ready to play and that’s what I’ve tried to show.”
Jones has proven that he was ready for the next level of football. A preseason knee injury to Nick Williams gave Jones the opportunity to start and he has taken advantage of it, starting all five games for the Lions (4-1), who play at Texas A&M-Kingsville (2-3) on Saturday.
It has been several years since true freshmen played a major role at UNA. In the past three years, only four true freshmen saw the field for the Lions as former coach Terry Bowden restocked the roster with 15-to-20 Division I transfers each year.
When Bobby Wallace was hired for his second stint at UNA in January he immediately made it known that he would recruit high school players. With a depleted roster,
Wallace and his staff signed 41 high school players and brought in several other walk-ons.
Wallace expected several of the freshman to contributed and they have. The Lions have played 17 true freshmen, along with seven redshirt freshmen.
“We played a lot of freshmen here in 1988 and in my first year at Temple we played 17 freshmen when we beat Virginia Tech,” Wallace said. “But I’m not sure if we’ve every played this many. We’re taking 60 guys on the plane Saturday and 22 of them are freshmen, so more than a third of our team are freshmen.”
Jones and linebacker Brian Barnett started the season opener against Miles. Cornerback Jalen Reedus became a starter in the third game. Jones ranks fourth on the team with 30 tackles and has one interception. Reedus intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in his first start.
“I expected the freshmen to give us depth, but several have had to step in and start,” Wallace said. “I’m proud of the way they’ve played and I’m proud of the recruiting class that we put together.”
Quarterback Luke Wingo has played in every game as a freshman. Wingo said he is not surprised to be playing a big role in his first season.
“The coaches told me I would have the opportunity, but I would have to work for it and earn it,” Wingo said. “With so many freshmen here, I figured several would play. We were able to step up and fit in the system quickly, so it’s worked out well.”
UNA has been hit hard by injuries, which has forced several freshmen to grow up in a hurry. Others are working with the scout team as they continue to make the adjustment from high school football.
“We’re redshirting some really good freshmen and they understand that it’s in the best interest,” Wallace said. “I wish we could have redshirted all of them, but we needed several of them to play.
“There is no way to predict how they would play because playing as a freshmen is a very difficult thing to do. You can’t expect if from every freshman you sign.”
Reedus said he could tell quickly that this freshmen class was special.
“You could see that we’ve got a lot of freshmen that can play,” he said. “This group should be good in the long run and this season.”
While the freshmen that are playing are enjoying their current success, they know that they have a chance to be special in the future.
“Getting this experience has been good for us and we just want to keep on getting better,” Wingo said. ““It’s good to see that we should continue to be good three and four years down the road.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.
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