Asked what keeps him up at night as The Citadel's season opener approaches, Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson had a succinct answer.
"We've got a lot of freshmen on the depth chart," Thompson noted Tuesday during his first news conference of the season.
Nine true freshmen, to be exact, including two starters on the offensive line and one at punter. How the knobs, as freshmen are known at the military school, perform Saturday will have a lot to say about how the two-time defending Southern Conference champs fare against a Division II Newberry team that won 10 games last year and is eager to pull off a history-making upset.
True freshmen Jon Barrett Lewis and Jonathan Cole will start their first college games at the guard spots on The Citadel's offensive line, key cogs in the triple-option offense. Redshirt freshman Prince Howard-Whitaker also is a first-time starter at left tackle.
Lewis is a 6-2, 300-pounder from Lenoir, N.C., who played for the North Carolina Shrine Bowl team and starred for his high school team in an option offense similar to The Citadel's. Cole, 6-1 and 286 pounds, was an all-conference player at Fuquay-Varina (N.C.) High School.
"They've come a long way from when they got here Aug. 3," Thompson said of the freshmen guards. "But there are some things technique-wise that we have to make sure we hammer into them over the next couple of days."
Meanwhile, true freshman Noah Cannon beat out redshirt freshman Gage Russell for the starting nod at punter. Cannon, 6-2 and 190 pounds, averaged 37.9 yards per punt as a senior at Rabun County (Ga.) High School, and showed his athletic ability with 20 catches for 403 yards as a receiver.
"We think Noah can be as good as (departed senior) Will Vanvick, but he obviously just doesn't have the game experience yet," Thompson said.
Other true freshmen likely to see action against Newberry include nose guard John Wesley Whiteside (6-1, 310), defensive end Aaron Brawley (6-2, 215), cornerback Wally Wilmore (5-11, 175) and slotback Keyonte Sessions (5-8, 195).
Senior quarterback Dominique Allen is confident in the freshmen.
"We've got a lot of guys who haven't played college football at this level," said Allen, who is 16-6 as a starter in his career. "There will be a lot of nervousness going around. So the best thing that I and older guys like (slotback) Cam Jackson and (center) Tyler Davis can do is stay calm and keep reassuring them.
"We'll tell them, 'We got you if you make a mistake, we'll be all right,'" he said. "It's not the end of the world, and we'll live to play another play."
• Saturday's game will be the first with instant-replay capability for game officials at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Thompson said offensive coordinator Lou Conte and defensive coordinator Blake Harrell will be responsible for letting him know when a call should be challenged.
• The Newberry game will be carried on ESPN3 and can be seen in Charleston on MYTV Charleston. Other TV stations cleared to carry the game: WYFF Greenville; WFXB Myrtle Beach; WITN Greenville, N.C.; WILM Wilmington, N.C.; WDWW Atlanta; WHKY Charlotte; Cox Cable in Roanoke and Norfolk, Va.; and KPMF in Memphis. Kendall Lewis and former Citadel linebacker James Riley will have the call.
• Mike Legg and former Citadel player Lee Glaze return on The Citadel Radio Network, which can be heard in Charleston on 1450-AM, 92.1-FM and 102.1-FM. Other stations: 95.9-FM/1470-AM in Columbia; 92.9-FM/660-AM in Greenville/Spartanburg; and 105.9-FM/1240-AM in Sumter.
• The Citadel GrayLine syndicated radio show returns for its 10th season beginning Wednesday. The show will be held at 11 a.m. each Wednesday during football season at the Charleston Sports Pub in Mount Pleasant.
Former Citadel player Kyle Weaver will host the show, with guest Jeff Hartsell of The Post and Courier. Fans are welcome at Charleston Sports Pub for the show. The Citadel GrayLine airs on seven radio stations throughout the state, including at 8 a.m. Fridays on WOHM 96.-FM in Charleston.