Texas A&M had the No. 17 recruiting class in 2016, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. There was good reason for its top-20 ranking.
Eight true freshmen played for coach Kevin Sumlin’s team last season, with several making a significant impact. Of the 20 recruits who arrived in College Station last summer, 5 played in double-digit games, with 4 appearing in 12.
All told, Texas A&M’s true freshmen combined for 74 games with 16 starts. The Aggies finished 8-5 and 4-4 in the SEC.
Trayveon Williams had 1 of the best seasons in Aggies history by a true freshman. Williams appeared in 12 games and started 3. A member of ESPN’s true freshman All-America team and the Freshman All-SEC team, Williams was the first Texas A&M true freshman with more than 1,000 yards rushing.
He also was the first Aggies true freshman to run for more than 200 yards in a game, with 217 against Tennessee. Plus, Williams had the second-longest run by a freshman in program history — 89 yards for a touchdown versus Auburn.
Lost in Williams’ breakout season was a player who helped him reach 1,057 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns. Guard Colton Prater started every game except the Texas Bowl, which he missed because of a shoulder injury suffered in the regular-season finale against LSU. Prater was a versatile member of the offensive line — he started 10 games at left guard before filling in at right guard and right tackle late in the season.
Prater continues to recover from his injury but worked out at center in spring practice, hinting that last season’s center, Erik McCoy, could switch to left guard.
Tyrel Dodson impressed during his true freshman season. In a class with 8 4-star recruits, it was Dodson, a 3-star inside linebacker, who made the biggest impact on defense. Dodson appeared in 12 games and had 25 tackles (15 solo) and 1.5 tackles-for-loss, plus a fumble recovery.
Expect Dodson to be an impact player, but first he must recover from a broken hand that limited his practice time this spring.
Daniel LaCamera might be Texas A&M’s full-time kicker, but true freshman Braden Mann handled kickoffs for the Aggies. Mann closed his debut campaign with a 63.9-yard average on kickoffs, third best in the SEC. His 3 onside kicks were more than any other conference kicker.
It appears Mann will remain on kickoff duty with LaCamera handling field goals. Mann also will back up punter Shane Tripucka.
Who we will meet in 2017
Quartney Davis had a 16-yard touchdown catch on a dink-and-dunk pass from Jake Hubenak in the Aggies’ spring game. Davis is among 4 wide receivers from the 2016 recruiting class who will vie for playing time in 2017, joining Aaron Hansford, Clyde Chriss and Moses Reynolds.
Look for Ryan McCollum to join fellow 2016 recruit Colton Prater as a starter on the offensive line. McCollum saw time with the first team at right guard this spring.
Watch QB Nick Starkel in the run-up to the season opener against UCLA. Hubenak is Texas A&M’s likely starting quarterback, but he’ll be pushed by Starkel and 2017 freshman Kellen Mond.
No quarterback impressed in the spring game. That might create an opportunity for Starkel, who hit fellow 2016 recruit Kendrick Rogers for an 11-yard touchdown in the scrimmage. A pro-style quarterback, Starkel was 10 of 27 passing for 174 yards.