True freshmen making waves in Big East

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
8:32
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

Kevin Hoffman/US Presswire
Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis is one of several freshmen making waves early in the season.

True freshmen made national headlines on Saturday, with Matt Barkley leading USC to a win at Ohio State and Tate Forcier doing the same for Michigan versus Notre Dame.

But those aren't the only true freshmen making an impact. In fact, the Big East is full of them, and many were on display last Saturday.

The top Big East freshman sensation so far is Pittsburgh running back Dion Lewis, who's currently ranked third in the country in rushing yards. Along with his obvious talent, Lewis has a presence that defies his years.

Coach Dave Wannstedt said he was nervous that Lewis, who's originally from Albany, N.Y., might be distracted for last week's game at Buffalo when about 20 friends and family came to town. Wannstedt was so worried that when he saw Lewis on the elevator at the team hotel Friday night, he had to ask the freshman where he was going. But Lewis assured his coach he was just grabbing a snack. Turns out that Lewis didn't even talk to any of his family members until after Saturday's game.

"I tell you that story just to reaffirm that this kid is probably ahead of his time from a maturity standpoint," Wannstedt said. "He breaks the long run at the end of the game and he's quoted as saying the first thing that went through his mind was making sure that he held onto the football. Most guys don't even think about that when they're in the open field. He's off to a good start, to say the least."

At Rutgers, freshmen are all over the place. Greg Schiano handed the reins to quarterback Tom Savage in the second half of the Cincinnati game, and Savage completed 8-of-13 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns in his starting debut against Howard.

"He showed good composure," Schiano said. "To have no delay-of-game penalties or illegal procedure penalties when you are a starter, that was good to see. His decision making, again, was pretty darn good."

Receiver Mohamed Sanu is maybe the Scarlet Knights' most impressive freshman. He has a team-best 12 catches for 123 yards already. Running back De'Antwan Williams gained 89 yards in his debut against Howard.

The highest-rated 2009 recruit in the Big East, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc., was South Florida defensive end Ryne Giddins. He didn't play in the opener but made a tackle for a loss in his lid-lifter at Western Kentucky. Meanwhile, the Bulls' Lindsey Lamar has run for 99 yards and a touchdown

West Virginia's Tavon Austin caught a 58-yard touchdown pass on Saturday against East Carolina, probably the first of many highlight plays to come for the speedster. Once he figures everything out, that is. Earlier in the game, he drew a penalty for lining up offsides.

"And I was lined up on the wrong side too,'' Austin told the Charleston Gazette. "Coach [Chris] Beatty yelled at me, though, and we got it straightened out.''

Elsewhere, freshmen Jesse Joseph and Trevardo Williams are splitting reps at one of UConn's defensive end spots, while wideout Dwayne Difton is expected to take on a bigger role in the Huskies offense. Alec Lemon is starting at wide receiver for Syracuse. Defensive backs Reuben Johnson and Chris Williams got some run for Cincinnati in the second half against Southeast Missouri State.

These are some of the next wave of stars in the Big East, and they'll be making plays in the league for a long time.

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