Mountain West Football: 13 Sophomores Who Could Be Super In 2019
Who could be among the next class of stars in the Mountain West? We pick sophomores from each team of whom you should take notice.
New household names might have already arrived.
There’s little doubt that the Mountain West will have to replace a great deal of star power on the gridiron in 2019. For instance, if you take a look back at our list of the conference’s top 50 players from last summer, only 16 return back this fall.
Never fear, though, since the conference has recruited quite well over the past couple seasons, meaning the next wave of breakout candidates is probably here now. Just who are those athletes, though? We pick players from each Mountain West team and explain why.
It’s still fairly rare for a sophomore to make a significant impact at the Academy, but Jordan Jackson and Kadin Remsberg are proof that cream rises to the top no matter where an athlete competes. Wide receiver Brandon Lewis seems like a strong candidate, then, to follow in their footsteps.
At 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, he’s definitely not the Jalen Robinette type, but he did average 20 yards on his five catches last fall and reportedly ran a mid-4.3 40-yard dash earlier this month. Wide receivers coach Ari Confessor referred to Lewis as a “very quick guy” back in March, but that might be an understatement. With vacancies to fill in the passing game, his potential to stretch the field could make him a touchdown waiting to happen.
As the one team in the conference that’s recruited better than everyone else, take your pick. Chase Cord, Andrew Van Buren and Ezekiel Noa are all viable choices here, but ours is offensive tackle John Ojukwu.
Ojukwu may not be the best lineman on this unit, not as long as Ezra Cleveland is around, though that didn’t stop him from becoming an enviable complement. He started the last seven games of 2018 and, according to Pro Football Focus, he ranked among the top linemen in the Mountain West, including Cleveland, in QB pressures allowed, meaning that whoever ends up under center for the Broncos is likely to keep his jersey blue.
Nikko Hall arrived in Fort Collins as one of the best recruits in program history, but he ended up having a fairly quiet 2018 as Preston Williams and Olabisi Johnson chewed up the lion’s share of work in the passing game. With 245 targets to replace between the two, however, and Hall’s ascension to the top of the post-spring two-deep, he could be primed for a huge jump in production opposite Warren Jackson.
With plenty of positions to fill on both sides of the ball, the Bulldogs provide a number of choices here, but safety Wylan Free might be the most important new piece. He made two starts for the Bulldogs last year, one as a cornerback and one as a nickelback, but saw time all season long as a reserve. Last year’s defense, which ranked 11th by Passing Defense S&P+, may have set a very high bar to match, but don’t be shocked if Free steps in to form and creates the conference’s best safety tandem with Juju Hughes.
The skill positions might get most of the spotlight in a run-and-shoot offense, but it never would have worked as it did in 2018 without the tandem of offensive tackle Ilm Manning and guard Solo Vaipulu. Not only were Manning and Vaipulu among just four true freshmen to start every game for an FBS team last year, they also anchored a unit that, according to Pro Football Focus, graded out as one of the best in the Mountain West.
And if that wasn’t enough, Stephen Tsai of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser noted back in March that despite running 963 plays on offense, neither of them had a holding penalty all season long. They should be entrenched in this offense for years to come.