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2015 Sun Belt Impact Freshmen

By Kenzie Stanford
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Taking at look at the top five impact true freshmen in the Sun Belt for the 2015 season.

National Signing Day has come and gone, and Sun Belt teams have stacked up their rosters with some elite talent from across the country.

When it comes to freshmen, there is always an adjustment period to the new level of competition – but some rise to the occasion more quickly than others. As rare as it is to make a serious impact as a rookie, there are a few freshmen that will step onto the field with the confidence to hang with the veterans.

With that being said, let's take a look at the top five potential impact freshmen to hit the field in the Sun Belt Conference in 2015.

Dion Ray – Louisiana (QB)

With the significant loss of Terrance Broadway, Ray comes into spring drills with his name listed as the starting quarterback atop the the Ragin' Cajun roster. Louisiana put together one of its best signing classes to date, and Ray adds the stability behind center that this team needs. Ray was rated as the No. 3 quarterback prospect in Louisiana.

In reference to Ray’s early arrival to spring practice, head coach Mark Hudspeth notes, “That’s the advantage of coming in early. He’s a quarterback that is very fast, can run. Worst case, you utilize his skill in a wildcat situation or something. You can utilize his talents on the field because he’s very fast, very elusive. When you have that type of athletic ability, you can help your team somewhere. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Jalen Thompson – South Alabama (CB)

A somewhat surprising steal for South Alabama, Thompson, a two-sport athlete, plans to take his talents to the football field and to the diamond for the Jaguars. Thompson heads to USA from St. Paul’s Episcopal under coach Steve Mask after denying interest from schools like Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Northern Illinois, Louisville and Georgia Tech. His decision to stick to South Alabama is a huge win for this rising football program.

Per Alabama Local News, Coach Mask notes, “I think Jalen is one of the best commits South Alabama has received since they moved to Division I, probably not including transfers. This makes a statement about Joey [Jones] and that program.”

Devin Papenheim – Appalachian State (DL)

Papenheim comes to App State from South Sumter High School as a 6’6” defensive lineman and an all-state and first-team all-region pick. Although his size has been a question mark for certain positions, he has shown to be able to compensate with his competitive edge. His ability to get low, despite his height, shows the athletic ability that App State is hoping can be developed into the type of player that the Mountaineers need on defense. Papenheim also exhibits the speed on defense to get down the field to make tackles. He is a big pick-up for App State and he seems to enjoy the school as much as it will enjoy having him on its roster.

“There were a couple of other schools talking to me, trying to get me to commit but I was persistent with App. They’re the first school that offered me. I really just fell in love with the campus when I went there,” stated Papenheim, per App State Mania.

Tyler Bass – Georgia Southern (K)

It is rare that you hear anyone talk about a kicker being an immediate impact player at the D-I level, but with the struggles that the Eagles have had at that position in the past, Bass will make a huge difference. Bass comes to Statesboro from Dutch Fork High School with an impressive resume: he was an all-state selection at his South Carolina high school and he also was the winner of the 2014 Chris Sailer award – aka “The National High School Kicker of the Year Award”.

When asked about Bass, Sailer commented, “Tyler is a great kicking prospect. Field goals are college read off the ground. Shows great range. Kickoffs are a real strength. Also shows punting ability. Has all the tools to enjoy success at any college level right away. Does very well under pressure. A fine young man with a great attitude and work ethic. Outstanding D-I prospect.”

Warren Wand – Arkansas State (RB)

The Red Wolves finished at the top of the list for the 2015 recruiting class rankings, and Wand is a player who stands out amongst the other 25 newcomers. It’s hard to make predictions on how well a teenager will transition into the college arena, but if there is one guy from Arkansas State that can do it, it’s Wand.

Per Charles Blouin-Gascon of Underdog Dynasty, “The Red Wolves could have found one in tiny running back Warren Wand, he of the 48 career rushing touchdowns and 5,085 rushing yards – and that’s while playing one season at quarterback for Edmond Memorial. He’s only five-foot-seven and 170 lbs., (and listed as five-foot-five and 179 lbs.) but who cares?”

Kenzie Stanford - Kenzie Stanford is a Georgia Southern student and Atlanta native who spent her summer as an intern at Turner Sports and spent her last semester as the Sports Director for WVGS 91.9 “The Buzz.” She was apart of the women’s soccer team at Georgia Southern, but her passion for sports goes far beyond that. Per her graduation in May, she is planning to keep the dream alive and work in the sports industry. Watch for Kenzie’s coverage of the Sun Belt Conference and Georgia Southern University here at Southern Pigskin.