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BOWLING GREEN — One look at the roster for the Bowling Green State University football team will show that the Falcons are young.
And a simple glance at the depth chart for the team’s opener at Idaho Thursday confirms that those “Baby Birds” will learn by doing.
Of the 106 players on BG’s roster, 81 are either freshmen or sophomores — that’s more than three-quarters of the team. Of all the players listed on the Falcons’ two-deep for the opener, 34 are freshmen or sophomores.
“We are not playing freshmen and sophomores we think are bad football players,” Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson said. “We’re playing younger guys who are good players.
“I think we’ve recruited well, and I think these guys have developed. We feel we have good players, but when the ball is kicked off Thursday this will be the first time these guys have played in a [college] game.”
To that end, fall camp has featured a significant amount of “live” play to try and simulate a game situation.
“We’ve tried to explain it, and we’ve had the older guys talk to the younger guys about it,” Clawson said. “When it’s kicked off for real, the speed, the tempo, is different — and you have to be ready.
“I’ve talked to our seniors about being responsible for getting the younger guys ready. … If the older players in our program want to have a successful season, they’re going to have to force the younger guys to grow up in a hurry.”
It’s a responsibility the upperclassmen have embraced.
“One thing I’ve tried to do is, if a younger players messes up and gets down on himself, I’ll try to pick him, up,” said All-Mid-American Conference defensive tackle Chris Jones. “We want him to brush it off and focus to get ready for the next play.”
Jones is part of a group on the defensive front seven that also features Kevin Moore (formerly Kevin Alvardo) on the line and linebacker Dwayne Woods. That group needs to play well to give a young secondary — the 11-man two-deep includes eight freshmen and sophomores — time to gel.
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On offense the Falcons have experience at wide receiver, where five seniors — All-MAC picks Kamar Jorden and Eugene Cooper along with Adrian Hodges, Justus Jones, and Ray Hutson — will catch passes from sophomore Matt Schilz, who started 10 games last season. Jordan Hopgood and bevy of running backs will look to spark a running game that ranked 120th — or last — among all FBS schools last season.
The questions on offense focuses on the line, which last season eventually crumbled under an avalanche of injuries, inexperience, and insufficient depth.
“A lot of our problems last year were because we didn’t have a lot of developed depth,” Clawson admitted. “When we had the injuries hit, we fell off a cliff.
“At so many positions, we’re not there any more. When you have more than 80 scholarship players you have better competition, you have better practices, and you have better depth going into a season.”
Clawson said his team is motivated to put a 2-10 season behind them. The question of whether the Falcons will improve upon that mark, and the team’s 1-7 MAC record, will be answered by how quickly the underclassmen develop.
“At some time [former quarterback] Tyler Sheehan had to play his first game as a freshman, and [former wide receiver] Freddie Barnes had to play his first game as a freshman,” Clawson said. “If they’re surrounded by enough good players and enough good leaders, you can be successful. The young players are good players, and good players learn quickly. It will be baptism by fire, but we think they are ready.”
Contact John Wagner at: email@example.com or 419-724-6481.