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Miami Hurricanes Football: Freshman of the Year

The Canes had a exciting crop of rookies in 2017. Which made the biggest impact?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Miami
Jeff Thomas scores his first career touchdown vs. Syracuse.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Although it ended with a thud, the Miami Hurricanes’ 2017 season was huge in that it pushed the program to new heights that hadn’t been seen in years in Coral Gables.

The regular season is over, and now, it’s awards-time all around college football. The Canes even held their annual team awards banquet at Gusman Concert Hall last night.

While players in every class stepped up to make this season special, it was the contributions of a select few freshman that added an unexpected extra layer of depth to the roster, allowing the Canes to make a run to the ACC Championship game.

So, I wanted to know: which young stud made the biggest imprint on Miami this year? Without further ado, here are your “Freshman of the Year” candidates for the 2017 season.

WR Jeff Thomas

For my personal freshman of the year, I’ll stick with my pick I made before the season for breakout offensive player. Thomas was indeed electric in his rookie year, consistently getting behind defenses for a ridiculous 20.4 yards per catch average, which was even better than what Ahmmon Richards posted a season ago. What’s even sillier is that number could’ve been even higher if not for multiple Malik Rosier over/under throws to a wide-open Thomas running free in the secondary. Thomas finished the year with 3 starts, 16 catches for 326 yards, and 2 TD’s, while also becoming Miami’s primary kick returner. He even had a 100 yard game against North Carolina. With a season now under his belt, good luck stopping the dynamic duo of Thomas and Richards in 2018.

OL Navaughn Donaldson

Donaldson played a major role in his first season at UM, winning a starting job in camp and making 9 starts at right guard while earning All-ACC Honorable Mention recognition. An ankle injury against Florida State caused him to miss two games, but he hopped right back into the lineup soon after and was a consistent and dominating force on the right side of the line in the run game. Donaldson’s technique broke down at times in pass protection and he was pushed around, showing his inexperience, but the sky is the limit for this talented road-grader. He will be a mainstay on Miami’s O-Line the next 3 seasons.

RB DeeJay Dallas

Dallas had a bit of a roller-coaster year to say the least. As if adjusting to the college game wasn’t hard enough on its own, Dallas switched positions to running back from wide receiver mid-way through the season with the Canes hurting for RB depth due to Mark Walton’s season ending injury. With zero experience playing running back in his career, Dallas was expected to be a “Break in case of Emergency” type of player behind Travis Homer and Trayone Gray, but he proved a quick learner, and his level of athleticism became too much for Mark Richt to keep off the field. Dallas soon passed Gray on the depth chart and carved out a share of the backfield work for himself, carrying 33 times for 148 yards (4.5 ypc) and 2 TD’s on the season, with both touchdowns coming in Miami’s biggest win of the season over Notre Dame. The former high school QB even ran the “Wild Cat” for Richt this year and was also UM’s #2 kick returner. With Homer returning and top prospect Lorenzo Lingard entering the mix in 2018, it remains to be seen just how much burn Dallas will get next year, but it’s clear he will have a role on this offense regardless.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Miami
DeeJay Dallas scores his first career touchdown against Notre Dame.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

DE Jonathan Garvin

With the Canes returning some incredible depth at defensive end, not much was expected out of Garvin in 2017. However, Garvin made the most out of his limited snaps and stepped up even more when Demetrius Jackson went down for the year. Garvin’s biggest plays came in Miami’s biggest two games (at the time) against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame: strip sacks in the 4th quarter in which Garvin also recovered his own forced fumble. Garvin also had a blocked punt against UNC and finished the season with 8 total tackles, 3 TFL, and the aforementioned 2 sacks/forced fumbles/fumble recoveries. The graduation of Trent Harris and Chad Thomas at end will open up even more opportunities for this talented pass rusher in 2018.

CB Trajan Bandy

The theme of the freshmen in 2017 has been how they made plays in the most important games of the season for Miami, and Bandy may have had the most memorable one of them all. Just before halftime against Notre Dame, he stepped in front of a pass and took the pick 65 yards to the house to completely demoralize the Irish going into the locker room. Bandy slowly worked his way into the coaches’ circle of trust, and by the end of the year, had developed into a formidable cover man. He made 3 starts, adding 22 tackles, 5 PBU’s, 1.5 TFL, and the 1 INT.

S Amari Carter

Carter led all freshmen in tackles with 25 and delivered bone-crunching hits all year to anyone brave enough to challenge him. While his coverage skills are still a work in progress, there’s no denying that Carter is a force patrolling the back-end of the defense and he thrives in run support. Carter also proved to be a weapon for Manny Diaz as a blitzer, getting home twice for sacks against big-time opponents Virginia Tech and Clemson. He added a forced fumble in the season opener against Bethune-Cookman as well.


The recruiting class of 2017 showed they could make plays when it mattered the most, and the 2018 class could be even better, adding more depth to a team that is stacking recruiting classes like it’s Jenga and shooting for a National Title. But, for now, we want to know: who was your “Freshman of the Year” for Miami in 2017?

Poll

Which Miami Hurricane has had the most impressive freshman season?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Jeff Thomas
    (341 votes)
  • 39%
    Navaughn Donaldson
    (431 votes)
  • 8%
    DeeJay Dallas
    (91 votes)
  • 3%
    Jonathan Garvin
    (37 votes)
  • 14%
    Trajan Bandy
    (154 votes)
  • 2%
    Amari Carter
    (23 votes)
  • 0%
    Other
    (1 vote)
1078 votes total Vote Now