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Arizona Wildcats have used third-most true freshmen in college football in 2017

Rich Rodriguez expects Arizona to be No. 1 on the list by the end of the season

NCAA Football: Arizona at Texas El Paso
Arizona true freshman linebacker Colin Schooler
Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

You would be hard-pressed to find college football teams that have used more true freshmen this season than the Arizona Wildcats.

In fact, there are only two: the LSU Tigers and Illinois Fighting Illini.

Arizona has used 17 true freshmen this season, which places them in a tie for third in the country.

Many of those newcomers have been major contributors, too.

Tony Fields II starts at will linebacker and leads Arizona in tackles (17), plus has a sack. Kylan Wilborn starts at stud, and he has three tackles for loss and a sack.

Scottie Young Jr. starts at free safety and he’s tied for third on the team in tackles (14), not to mention he made Pro Football Focus’ All-Freshman Team with a strong performance in Week 2 vs. Houston.

Colin Schooler, Troy Young, Tony Wallace, and Kurtis Brown have all been key reserves on defense, too. Schooler, who plays a significant amount at mike linebacker, has a forced fumble and interception.

On offense, true freshman tight end Bryce Wolma has been UA’s most used player at the position since Rob Gronkowski.

No, really — Wolma leads Arizona in receptions (11).

Kickoff specialist Lucas Havrisik has already improved UA’s special teams by drilling 16 of his 24 kickoffs for touchbacks.

The fact that freshmen have had such a prominent role on this year’s Arizona team isn’t a surprise, since head coach Rich Rodriguez said during fall camp that 20 to 25 newcomers would play this season, and that he would force himself to use more players.

“At the first practice I meet with all of the freshmen and newcomers, and tell them not to assume they are redshirting,” Rodriguez said Monday. “They are here to learn, but not to defer. I talked to them a couple of weeks into camp and some of them already know they want to play, and some may not.”

Sure, it is early in the season and Arizona’s competition has been rather lackluster, but so far the UA’s freshmen have performed admirably.

And more are expected to see the field as the season progresses.

“I saw we play the third most true freshmen in the country. By the end of the year we will probably have the most because we still have many that will play,” Rodriguez said.

“It’s exciting to think about how good these guys are going to be.”

A reporter asked Rodriguez if Schooler reminds him of Scooby Wright III, and while Rodriguez said that’s an unfair comparison, he did admit that they do have some similarities.

“To compare anybody to Scooby means that he is so productive so early in his career. When we recruited (Schooler) we saw some of the same skills in him,” Rodriguez said. “Both Scooby and Colin were running backs in high school, very athletic, and love football. Colin has been that and then some so far, and he is going to keep getting better. He is a tough guy and has a nice feel, and his best football is still to come.”

Schooler, a former three-star recruit, has seven tackles this season to go along with an interception and forced fumble.

Freshman linebackers Anthony Pandy and JB Brown made their first appearance on the stat sheet Friday vs. UTEP. Pandy recorded his first sack, while Brown had two quarterback hits.

“Athletically and physically they don’t look like true freshmen,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve got great size and strength, they’ve just got to learn what to do with it, its Division 1 football. Both are going to be really good players, physical guys. We’re still trying to develop a better pass rush. We’ve gotten a little bit better at that, but those two are athletic guys that could be pass rushers as well.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire