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ACC Coastal true freshmen to watch in ‘21

The Coastal needs some new blood to match firepower with the Clemson Tigers in ‘21.

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The ACC Coastal has been the ‘also-ran’ division since the 2011 season. The Atlantic has pulled off ten straight ACC Championships with Clemson claiming seven of those ten, and Florida State claiming three. Prior to ‘11, the Coastal was the top dog with Virginia Tech winning three ACC Championships and Georgia Tech winning one.

Since the ACC Championship Game era started, the Tigers have the lead with seven titles, the Seminoles are in second place with four, and the Hokies are in 3rd place with three. Our beloved Miami Hurricanes have not won the ACC Championship, and have only made one ACCCG appearance which was under Mark Richt in 2017.

CFP Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In order for the Coastal to get back to making the conference competitive, one of the teams will need an explosive, early impact freshman to make a difference. Think about the change at UNC with Sam Howell at QB in 2019, or Ahmmon Richards record setting freshman campaign for The U.

Let’s examine the top freshmen around the Coastal and see who can make that kind of impact in 2021.

Duke Blue Devils

The Blue Devils were 114th in the country in sacks allowed in 2020. Duke’s offense completely fell apart under quarterback Chase Brice, who has since transferred to Appalachian State. 3.36 sacks allowed is atrocious and that’s why offensive tackle Andrew Jones is my true freshman to watch.

Jones is a six-foot-four, 255 pound three-star out of Reagan High School in North Carolina. While that’s undersized, it’s not as if they have a ton of top-flight line play at Duke. Jones could work his way into the starting five if the Devils continue to have poor line play.

Georgia Tech

James BlackStrain is a Yellow Jacket true freshman to watch in ‘21. BlackStrain is a four-star prospect from Holy Trinity in the Melbourne, FL area. BlackStrain doesn’t have elite speed, but he has soft hands, great route running, and coveted size at six-foot-two. With Ahmarean Brown leaving for South Carolina, Tech needs a receiver to step up this season.

Georgia Tech has lacked elite playmakers but should see their explosive plays tick up a notch with an improved offensive line, and more experience for QB Jeff Sims and RB Jahmyr Gibbs. Former Hurricane Marquez Ezzard and BlackStrain could make a tough-to-cover duo in Atlanta.


SOTU’s very own Hurricanes landed a top flight class in ‘21. Miami signed two five-star prospects in safety James Williams and defensive tackle Leonard Taylor, not to mention Elite 11 QB Jake Garcia. With Avantae Williams back on the team and D’Eriq King the clear starter behind center, Leonard Taylor could potentially have the biggest true freshman impact in Coral Gables, FL. BUT HE’S NOT MY PICK- I’m going with tight end Elijah Arroyo.

Arroyo is a six-foot-four, four-star prospect from Texas who can make an immediate impact in two tight end sets. OC Rhett Lashlee loves to run two tight ends on the field, and the mismatches that can be brought with Mike Harley, Arroyo, Will Mallory, and a young buck like Keyshawn Smith on the field could mean trouble for opposing defenses.

Also, Mallory is oft-injured and Arroyo could wind up starting at tight end at some point during the ‘21 season.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels have a number of highly regarded freshmen coming on campus for the ‘21 season. UNC also lost some NFL talent in Chazz Surratt, Javonte Williams, Michael Carter and Dyami Brown. UNC’s defensive end Keeshawn Silver is an obvious choice for impact true freshman.

Silver, a five-star prospect from Rocky Mount in North Carolina, already has a Power 5 frame. Silver is listed as six-foot-six, 289 pounds and comes from a football fanatic town in Rocky Mount. UNC lost the pass rush of linebacker Surratt, but they do have Tomari and Tomon Fox. However, I think Silver can come in and make an immediate impact in Jay Bateman’s 3-4 defense.


Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers lost NFL talent on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield after the 2020 season. So what did the former Michigan State DC go out and do? Load up on talented defenders for the incoming recruiting class. What Pitt really needs is an elite playmaker on offense.

Defensive end Nahki Johnson, out of Pennsylvania, might have to be the impact true freshman for the Panthers. With Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver in the NFL, Pitt needs to reload at defensive end. Johnson is a tad undersized at six-foot-three, 225 pounds, but he’s a four-star prospect and Narduzzi knows how to develop elite edge rushers.


UVA, like Pitt, is a program that needs elite playmakers on offense. Much like the Panthers, the Cavaliers struggle to recruit offensively and instead the top of their recruiting board from ‘21 is in the trenches. Bronco Mendenhall has a proven track record of developing offensive and defensive linemen and playing hard nosed football.

Defensive lineman Bryce Carter might get himself into the mix early and often for UVA. Carter is a four-star prospect out of Life Christian Academy in VA. He signed at six-foot-three, 250 pounds and with Bronco’s strength program will be Power 5 ready this fall.

While the Hoos return two starting defensive linemen from ‘20, four-stars don’t just fall off trees in Charlottesville. Carter will get playing time and make an impact this season.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies could use a QB not named Braxton Burmeister to save Justin Fuente’s head coaching era in Blacksburg. However, they can also use a running back to replace Khalil Herbert’s 1,000 yards and eight rushing TD’s in limited duty. Herbert’s impact will be missed at VT.

Three-star back Kenji Christian may need to be the answer for the Hokies. Christian comes to Tech from Pinson Valley in Alabama. At six-foot-two, 200 pounds, Christian already has appropriate size to make an immediate splash as a true freshman in ‘21. He will be battling two backs who did get PT in ‘20 when Herbert was injured. However, while Jalen Holston did flash at times with 4.7 yards per carry, the starting RB job is anything but a lock.

Now you decide...

We all know that Elijah Arroyo would be our top choice if he was allowed in the poll, thus, which non-Miami player is going to be the biggest impact player in the Coastal in 2021?


Which Coastal non-Canes freshman will have the biggest impact in ‘21?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Andrew Jones, Duke
    (1 vote)
  • 18%
    James BlackStrain, GT
    (17 votes)
  • 45%
    Keeshawn Silver, UNC
    (43 votes)
  • 7%
    Nahki Johnson, Pitt
    (7 votes)
  • 12%
    Bryce Carter, UVA
    (12 votes)
  • 14%
    Kenji Christian, VT
    (14 votes)
94 votes total Vote Now