The Early Signing Period looms in mid-December with what has become the first of two National Signing Days on the annual recruiting schedule. Acclimating to high-major college football usually takes time for the vast majority of the nation’s best high school recruits.
But as the following breakdown shows, some prospects are too good to keep off the field, and they can make major impacts in high-leverage situations. Here are some examples of impact freshmen in recent seasons — as well as current college rookies producing for playoff contenders — who have proven why National Signing Day matters when considering immediate impact.
2017 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Perhaps the highest-profile example of freshmen impact came in Alabama’s 26-23 overtime win against Georgia on Jan. 8, 2018. Alabama starting quarterback Jalen Hurts was pulled at halftime as the Crimson Tide trailed Georgia 13-0 at the break, setting the stage for Tua Tagavailoa‘s arrival in the national consciousness on the biggest stage possible.
Tagavailoa completed 14 of 24 throws for 166 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception, connecting with fellow true freshmen DeVonta Smith for the game-winning 41-yard touchdown strike in OT. Tagavailoa established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the country, while Smith flashed what was to come in his Alabama career. Smith recently set the SEC career receiving touchdowns record held by former Alabama star Amari Cooper and Florida’s Chris Doering.
But Tagavailoa and Smith were far from the only freshmen to impact that instant classic. Georgia’s Jake Fromm threw for 232 yards, one TD, and two INT’s, while D’Andre Swift got seven touches. Alex Leatherwood played important snaps at left tackle for Alabama after Jonah Williams left the game in the third quarter with an injury. Najee Harris‘ 64 rushing yards led Bama, while Jerry Jeudy caught a pass for 20 yards.