College and SEC football is cyclical. And therefore, in addition to teams, there are always players that emerge out of nowhere each season. Many times, these players are 18-year-old freshmen that were just in high school a few months ago.
Some notable names of the past that starred as true freshmen would be Tyrann Mathieu of LSU, Jalen Hurts of Alabama, Todd Gurley of Georgia, Vernon Hargreaves of Florida and Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina. The list could go on and on.
The intriguing thing is as fans we often get so fixated on the upper classmen simply because we’re familiar with them being that we’ve heard their names before and seen what they can do at the college level at least to some extent in years prior. So, it makes sense. But the fact of the matter is that every season there are true freshmen that emerge.
Here is my list of the top freshmen to watch for on each SEC football team:
Top SEC football freshmen to watch for during 2023 season
Luke Hasz according to ESPN is the second highest ranked tight end of the 2023 class and is ranked 84th overall. Hasz is from Bixby, Oklahoma and although recruited heavily by his home-state Oklahoma Sooners, Hasz opted to join the Hogs and is turning heads in fall practice according to reports. At Bixby High School, Hasz caught 100 passes in three seasons and 20 touchdowns for 1,736 yards. This could be the second coming of Hunter Henry for Hogs fans. Look for Hasz to have a breakout freshman season as he is projected to be one of Arkansas starting tight ends this season.
Ashton Stamps is a three-star cornerback according to ESPN but has impressed in both spring and fall camp for the Tigers. His name seems to keep coming up in reports and he is even seen some time with the first team in practice. This may be the last recruit from this year’s freshman class fans would think of to emerge, but we know it’s been done before with LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu. And this is a university that we know has turned out some legendary defensive backs. Stamps was selected to the 2022 New Orleans All-Metro large-schools first team, as well as being selected to the 5A All-State first team as a senior from Archbishop Rummel High School in New Orleans.
Suntarine Perkins is a stud linebacker recruit out of Raleigh, Mississippi that chose to stay in state to play for the Rebels over offers from Alabama and Georgia. Perkins was ranked as the 18th overall prospect on ESPN’s 300 recruitment rankings, and the third best outside linebacker in the class. On a defense that needs much improvement, expect Perkins to get some playing time under new defensive coordinator, Pete Golding. Perkins played running back and linebacker in high school and led Raleigh High School to its first state title in 2022. The versatility of Perkins is a good sign of things to come for Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin.
Safety Isaac Smith was the top recruit for the Mississippi State Bulldogs in their 2023 class according to ESPN’s 300 recruitment rankings at 108th overall. Smith should push for early playing time as he was rated the number three player in Mississippi by ESPN. Smith was also selected to the 2023 Under Armour-All American game. The emphasis on defense will be more present under new head coach Zach Arnett who takes over for the offensive-minded Mike Leach. This should bode well for the development of Smith, and look for him to capitalize on it early on.
The Crimson Tide have always been known as a class with several five stars where it’s difficult to get on the field early as a freshman due to the wealth of talent. One name that has stood out starting with bowl prep practices last year for the Sugar Bowl against Kansas State is five-star safety Caleb Downs. Downs was the top-ranked safety and 11th overall prospect according to ESPN’s top 300 recruitment rankings for 2023. The talk in Tuscaloosa is that Downs is a plug-in starter right away at the safety position and should elevate the Tide’s defense after losing senior safety Demarcco Hellams to the NFL this past season. Downs played his high school football at Mill Creek in Hoschton, Georgia and was a four-year varsity starter. Downs is a ball-hawking safety who had nineteen interceptions. He also played two-ways often times in high school and was used on special teams and running back in addition to safety on defense. The versatility here is unmatched and Alabama head coach Nick Saban should be liking what he sees for the next few years.
Watch for Kayin Lee to push for early playing time and make an impact for the Tigers in 2023. According to ESPN’s top 300 recruitment rankings for 2023, Lee is the 182nd ranked player overall and Auburn’s highest recruit as they look to rebuild under new head coach, Hugh Freeze. Lee is from Ellenwood, Georgia and played at Cedar Grove High School where his team went 11-3 and was the AAA Georgia state runner-up. Lee was selected for the All-American bowl and also lettered in track and field in high school. There should be a chance for significant playing time with Lee’s athleticism as Freeze will be looking to build a new culture down on the plains and will have to rely on freshmen like Lee to do it.
Joenel Aguero could make a huge impact in Georgia’s already loaded secondary this year as a true freshman. Aguero was the 27th ranked overall player on ESPN and the fourth-highest ranked safety. Aguero was also the number one prospect out of the state of Massachusetts. Malaki Starks showed out as a true freshman in the secondary last year for the Bulldogs, and Aguero looks to repeat the same with former Georgia safety Chris Smith graduating and now in the NFL. He was part of the St. Johns Prep MIAA state championship team in 2022. Aguereo played for IMG Academy in 2021 and was part of the 9-1 team.
Cameron Seldon may be the most versatile freshman in SEC football besides Caleb Downs coming into 2023. Seldon was recruited to Tennessee as a wide receiver but has seen time at running back at practice as well. This isn’t anything new for Seldon as he played both receiver and running back in high school as well for Northumberland in Heathsville, Virginia. Senior year, he ran for 551 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground, as well as catching 18 passes for 365 yards and another five touchdowns. 247Sports had Seldon rated as the number three athlete in the class of 2023. This type of dynamic athlete should have Vols head coach Josh Heupel excited to utilize early and often in Tennessee’s high-powered offense that ranked first in the country last year with 46.1 points per game.
In a Liam Coen offense, four-star wide receiver Anthony Brown could look to join a trio of already elite wide receivers for the Wildcats. This would make an offense even more potent than it already appears it’s going to be. In high school, Brown played for Springfield High School in Springfield, Ohio where he caught 83 passes for 1,626 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior season. Brown was also used on kickoff returns and averaged nearly 27 yards per return. These stats are promising for the Wildcats this season.
In an offense anchored by returning quarterback AJ Swann and returning wide receiver Will Sheppard, they’ll need support from others beyond those two to make things go in head coach Clark Lea’s third year. Look for one of those players to be freshman standout Junior Sherrill. Sherrill is a three-star 5’11” 172-pound wide receiver from Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Sherrill has elite speed that saw him catch 94 passes for 1,362 yards and 24 touchdowns his senior year. Ranked as the number twenty-three prospect in the state of Tennessee, Sherrill stays in his home state looked to help be an anchor on the Commodore offense for the 2023 season.
Marvin Burks Jr. is one of only five four-star freshmen on the 2023 Missouri football roster. Burks played his high school ball at Cardinal Ritter College Prep for his final season and is from St. Louis, Missouri and will play safety for the Tigers. Burks has great size and has a background on the offensive side of the ball as well at wide receiver and running back that should help his development and understanding of the game as he pushes to get on the field early for the Tigers.
Nyckoles Harbor is listed as an athlete for South Carolina and was the 39th ranked player on ESPN’s top 300 recruitment rankings for 2023. Harbor played his high school ball for Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, DC. During his time there, he was a two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in Washington, DC. Harbor saw time at tight end and defensive line in high school. Harbor brings elite speed where he was a sprinter in high school running the 60 meters in 6.64 seconds. This kind of speed and versatility should help this dynamic athlete to get on the field early for the Gamecocks.
Eugene Wilson III was recruited to Florida as an athlete and has been seeing time at wide receiver this spring and fall. The 5’10” 180-pound freshman played high school football at Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida, so Gainesville should feel right at home. ESPN’s top 300 recruitment rankings has Wilson ranked as the 147th player overall. Wilson was an Under Armour All-America Game invite for 2023 as well. He caught 40 passes for 764 yards and 11 touchdowns during his senior year.
Katy, Texas is known as a breeding ground for top college talent. And it produced another one in defensive tackle, David “DJ” Hicks, who is listed as the number eight overall recruiting prospect on ESPN’s 2023 top 300 recruiting rankings. Hicks was a 2023 Under Armour All-American and totaled 23 tackles for loss in his senior season at Paetow High School. Look for this game-wrecker to make an early impact for A&M as they push for a chance to win the SEC West this season.