Daryl Robinson said his stomach, like one might expect, was full of butterflies Friday night.
If they remained during the football team’s season-opener, it didn’t show.
Robinson was one of several freshmen to have a noticeable impact in the Owls’ 30-19 loss to Navy at Lincoln Financial Field, racing for an 18-yard touchdown.
Tight end Matt Balasavage snagged a 23-yard touchdown pass. Defensive end Elisha Joseph scooped up a fumble. Linebacker Amara Kamarahad had eight tackles, tying the team lead. Punter Jeff Wathne averaged 40 yards a punt, including a 56-yard boot. In all, 16 freshmen made their collegiate
“I like the freshmen – I can’t say it enough,” coach Al Golden said. “I like what a lot of those guys represent, whether it’s the way they took care of business at school or the way they operate on the field. But they are freshmen.”
At times, that inexperience showed.
The Owls had to burn some early timeouts to get the correct personnel on the field. Balasavage had a 20-yard reception erased because he failed to line up properly, drawing a flag for illegal touching.
“You could tell a lot of the guys who got the penalties were young guys,” Golden said. “I don’t think we had anything flagrant or anything like that. We’re still young. Those guys [have] to grow up fast.”
Though they might not be mature players yet, the freshmen have shown the ability to learn quickly.Robinson missed about 10 practices during training camp awaiting administrators to deem him eligible. Cleared just three days before the game, the North Catholic product said missing practice limited his ability to prepare.
“I was stressing a little bit during that process,” Robinson said. “After I got cleared, a couple days before the game, I was happy. I was working hard after that.”
The work paid off in the form of two catches, including the Owls’ first touchdown of the season. He totaled 26 receiving yards and displayed his versatility, carrying the ball three times.
“Obviously, everybody can see what he’s capable of doing,” Golden said, “but he hadn’t had a lot of plays. The guy was cleared on Tuesday and is able to go out and do that on Friday.”
Joseph, a late addition to the starting lineup, played in place of the injured Brian Sanford. The defensive lineman made an immediate impact, batting a pass into the ground on Navy’s first offensive play. If that wasn’t enough of a grand entrance, Joseph grabbed a ball knocked loose by Terrance Knighton in the third quarter. The Owls capitalized when Jake Brownell kicked a 25-yard field goal.
“Basically, I just was hustling to the ball,” Joseph said of his fumble recovery.
“It was exciting, the turnover. That’s what we needed. We wanted to have three turnovers for the defense and we tried to get three turnovers. I was just doing my job.”
Kamara, starting at outside linebacker, also did his job. He totaled eight tackles, tying defensive back Dominique Harris and fellow linebacker Tommie Weatherspoon for the team lead. Two of his tackles came in the second half, in which the defense only surrendered two field goals.
While the defense kept the game close, Balasavage made up for his first-half mishap.The tight end caught a 23-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
The score moved the Owls within one possession of the Midshipmen, at 27-19.The Owls have been impressed by Balasavage who, during training camp, played his way into split duties at tight end with junior Kevin Armstrong.
“I’m sure Coach talked about [Balasavage] a million times,” quarterback Adam DiMichele said. “He’s the biggest surprise this year. He’s a tough kid.”
Toughness is what Golden is looking for. The second-year coach wants it so bad that he had the slogan “finish” inscribed on the plastic above each of the players’ facemasks. Golden might have found a few freshmen Friday who can do just that.
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.