There's a risk to playing freshmen wide receivers, the way the Gophers plan to this season. It's a big step, it's a fast game, and mistakes can turn into game-changing plays.
That's why, with 18-year-olds Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison likely to have passes thrown their way Thursday, Gophers coaches take comfort in the fact that those newbies are being mentored by the team's veteran leadership.
You know, like Marcus Jones -- who is all of 43 days older than McDonald. Or that geezer Devin Crawford-Tufts, already 19 years old.
"Yeah, I kind of want to be like the dad out there," Crawford-Tufts joked Sunday. "I say, 'Hey, here's what you need to do on this play,' just so they don't get yelled at like I did."
Jones and Crawford-Tufts were in the same situation as McDonald and Harbison a year ago, trying not to be overwhelmed by college life while trying not to make mistakes on the football field.
"When I first got here, I was terrified," Crawford-Tufts said. "It was like, 'Oh, my God, this is a whole step up from high school to college. Everyone is bigger and faster.' But now I know what I'm doing and I can work on my craft. I've calmed down. I'm not scared."
He's trying to be a leader by example, being as technically perfect as he can and sharing the details of the playbook that he's learned.
"His leadership shows in how he plays. He makes the big plays; he makes the big blocks," Jones said of his fellow sophomore receiver. "I've heard the coaches say, 'Just do it like Devin.'"
Not a bad recommendation, especially considering these "veterans" have all of 17 catches and 298 yards combined.
"At receiver, we're basically [senior] Brandon Green and lot of guys who haven't played a lot," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "But they've gone through it and done it before, and they've been good mentors, even if they're not the most experienced guys in the league."
They also understand how much their team needs them this year.
"Last year [in practice], when MarQueis [Gray] would throw Devin a ball and he'd miss it, we'd be like, 'That's all right, stay with it, get out there.' Now, if he misses a ball, I'm chewing his tail, Coach [Pat] Poore is all over him, and we're holding him accountable, because we're expecting more from him," Limegrover said. "... They've got to grow up in a hurry, and those guys really understand that."
Jones does, too, all while coming back from knee surgery. He considers that injury completely healed.
As a slot receiver, he's taking his responsibility to act the part of a veteran by taking on more and more blocking assignments. "They're counting on me in the running game. I have to block a lot of linebackers," said the 5-8 Jones. "... I'm trying to become more reliable and durable, so they can trust me to do my job."