The 2017 FCS season showcased a ton of young talent in the level across all conferences, and freshmen players came up big all season and into the playoffs.
[divider]COMPARE: FCS Players | FCS Teams[divider]
Here's a look at some of the freshmen who impressed most in 2017 and who we expect to come back big in 2018. (Check out the HERO Sports 2017 FCS Freshman All America Team for more impact freshmen)
Jabril Cox, LB — North Dakota State
Cox was a vital cog in a defense that ultimately brought the National Championship back to Fargo after a one-year breakup. Cox totaled 75 tackles as a freshman (47 solo), registered 13.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, and added 4 passes defended, a forced fumble, an interception and three fumble recoveries.
At 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds, he stands out on the NDSU defense already as a freshman. A future draft prospect, Cox will be a big part of the NDSU defense for years to come.
HERDER: Emergence of Jabril Cox has NDSU Defense at its Best
Bryson Armstrong, LB — Kennesaw State
Another name you'll be hearing on defense for while is Bryson Armstrong of Kennesaw State, who took home the Jerry Rice Award this year for the nation's best freshman at the FCS level.
Armstrong totaled 114 tackles (85 solo) this season with 12.5 tackles for loss, 11.0 sacks, 10 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, 3 interceptions and a block. Whew. Armstrong is a problem for opposing offenses, and he and Kennesaw State are going to be a problem in the FCS playoffs again in 2018.
Zane Dudek, RB — Yale
Arguably the top FCS freshman on the offensive side of the ball, Dudek put up monster numbers this season for the Bulldogs on the way to an Ivy League Championship.
In 10 games Dudek rushed for 1,133 yards (on 159 carries), averaging 7.1 yards per carry and 113.3 yards per game. He rushed for 15 touchdowns, as well, adding 22 catches for 179 yards and a score through the air.
Tyler Ciurej, OL — South Dakota
Playing as a true freshman is an impressive feat. Starting 10 games as a true freshman center against the competition Missouri Valley Conference defenses bring is another level of impressive.
That's what Ciurej did this season as the Coyotes put up 523.6 yeard of total offense per game, the second-best number in all of FCS football.
Jeremiah Oatsvall, QB — Austin Peay
Oatsvall helped Austin Peay have one of the best stories in all of college football this season. The Govs turned a 29-game losing streak into an 8-4 season (with three losses to FBS teams) and a second-place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Govs, and Oatsvall, will be back to prove they belong in the FCS Playoff conversation next year. Oatsvall threw for 1,148 yards and 7 scores and rushed for 453 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season — he also caught a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Caylin Newton, QB — Howard
Newton is quickly proving he's not just Cam's little brother. The Howard freshman was spectacular in his freshman season for the Bison. He threw for 2,432 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for another 753 yards and 12 touchdowns, putting up over 3,100 total yards of offense and scoring 25 times.
Newton is headed for an exciting future at Howard.
Colby Ritten, DL — Richmond
Richmond probably wanted to get Ritten on the field as a true freshman last season, but an injury kept that red shirt on. This year he showed his potential with 57 tackles (19 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. He also forced a fumble and blocked a kick.
Ritten is a bright, young star in the making in the CAA.
Colby Reeder, LB — Delaware
Reeder had a monster debut for the Blue Hens, recording 49 tackles (28 solo), 8.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, a pair of interceptions, three passes defended and a pair of fumble recoveries, adding in a blocked kick.
Delware will return Colby (and his brother, Troy) as a fearsome linebacker duo in the CAA.
Mac McCain, DB — North Carolina A&T
Franklin "Mac" McCain III flashed brilliance for the Aggies in 2017. The freshman was second on the team with 36 total tackles (33 solo), and grabbed five interceptions in the regular season, returning three for touchdowns.
He capped the season with an interception in the Celebration Bowl as NC A&T took down Grambling 21-14 to finish off an undefeated season.
Xavior Williams, DB — Northern Iowa
Williams was second for the Panthers in 2017 in both interceptions (4) and pass breakups (8) as he put together a solid freshman campaign that included 30 tackles (25 solo).
He was also the team's primary kick returner, averaging 24.4 yards per return on the season.
Trey Tuttle, K — Weber State
Tuttle finished the season hitting 86.4 percent of his field goals (19-of-22) and 98.1 percent of extra points (53-of-54). He averaged 60.6 yards per kickoff and notched 20 touchbacks on 87 kickoffs.
He even caught a touchdown against Idaho State on his way to scoring 116 total points on the season.
Gresch Jensen, QB — Montana
Jensen wasn't supposed to play as much as he did in 2017, but an injury thrust him into the starting role and he didn't disappoint. Jensen completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,531 yards and 20 touchdowns in 10 games this year, rushing for 203 yards and 6 more scores.
He'll be one of several sophomore quarterbacks to keep an eye on in 2018.