Early-arriving freshman class is big for Tulane football _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Tulane freshmen Andrew Hicks, left, and Rod Teamer catch their breath between drills during a preseason workout at Yulman Stadium on Friday, July 17, 2015.

Tulane offensive coordinator Eric Price is counting on freshman Andrew Hicks to contribute this fall, in part because Hicks, at 6-foot-3, is a big wide receiver.

But since arriving on Tulane’s campus, Hicks, who went to Belle Chasse, has gotten even bigger, adding 9 pounds and now weighing 202. That’s just one of the benefits of freshmen reporting early, which Price said has increased to the point where it’s now the norm.

“They get to get their classes, get in condition and get acclimated to life away from home,” he said.

Even though NCAA rules prevent coaches from being involved with the players until preseason practice begins Aug. 5, for freshman in particular, it smooths the transition from high school playing to college. Like last season, Tulane will need freshmen to pull some weight this fall.

“Last season, we had two senior receivers injured, and freshmen had to step in right away and play,” Price said. “We had eight freshmen playing most of the season on offense.”

Hicks is among three receivers the Green Wave signed because the ranks are thin at that position. For the same reason, immediate freshman contributions also will be needed in the secondary, particularly at safety and nickle back.

The top freshman defensive back being asked to step in right away and contribute, if not start, is Rod Teamer, who went to Brother Martin. The Green Wave lost four defensive backs, including starting safety Sam Scofield, who was responsible for calling defensive signals.

“I told Rod he doesn’t have the luxury of sitting and waiting,” first-year defensive coordinator Jason Rollins said. “He has to come in and be ready.”

Rollins likes that Teamer is smart, he said, and also that he is known for big hits. In Tulane’s defense, there is no strong safety and free safety but instead open and closed, with both safeties alternating who plays near the line of scrimmage.

Teamer said he’s looking forward to playing in that system because he thinks he’ll fit well.

“I played more strong safety at Brother Martin because I was bigger than the other safety, but I also can run,” he said. “I look forward to doing more free safety-type stuff.”

Coming to Tulane early has helped Teamer continue to work in the weight room. It also has afforded him the opportunity to work with returning starting safety Darion Monroe.

“He’ll text me, ‘Let’s go look at film,’ ” said Teamer, one of six players to take classes in both summer sessions. “Or he’ll draw up something on the board, and we’ll go over it, and I’ll take notes.”

Of the 18 freshmen the Wave signed, nine were defensive players, including five cornerbacks and two safeties. The hope is that Darius Black, who also went to Belle Chasse, and Malik Eugene, who played at Acadiana, can contribute in the secondary but also on special teams.

Last season, a disproportionate amount of starters played on special teams, something the Wave would like to change this season. Special teams coordinator Doug Lichtenberger said he has his eye on Hicks, Black and Eugene — all physical players.

But Tulane also wants to improve its kicking game, and Zachary Block, a freshman from Clermont, Florida, is a candidate to start, Lichtenberger said. Last season’s starting kicker as a freshman, Andrew DiRocco, made just 53 percent of his field-goal attempts.

Block, who began to transition to college kicking as a high school senior by not kicking off a tee, said he has been able to work with a college deep snapper and holder. More important, he has been able to hone in on the battle that looms in August for the starting position. That, he could not have done at home.

“I’ve been going over to (the Yulman Stadium) field two or three times a week, kicking on the game field,” he said. “I can get used to situations (that arise) at practice when it’s on the line if I’m starting or not.”

The Wave signed three receivers — Hicks, Hahnville’s Ricky Preston and McDonogh 35’s Darius Williams. All are 6-1 or taller, and Preston, like Hicks, brings physical play. They lift weights and run during the week and participate in 7-on-7 play and ball-skill drills Saturday.

Hicks said it has made for a smooth transition.

“We don’t have a playbook or anything, but working with the quarterbacks, (starter) Tanner (Lee), you learn a lot of the plays you need to know to be ready when practice begins.”

Tulane’s training table also has been a big hit.

“The meal plan we have is incredible,” he said. “I want to be 210 (pounds) during the season.”

Price wouldn’t have a problem with that.