Tulane football coach Curtis Johnson used to believe every freshman recruit should receive a redshirt. A young running back he signed at San Diego State changed his mind.
“The dumbest thing we ever did, we didn’t start Marshall Faulk his first two games as a freshman,” Johnson said Wednesday at Tulane Media Day. “If we start him the first two games, we probably would have been in a bowl game and maybe a national champion.”
Faulk rushed for 386 yards and seven touchdowns in the first game he saw action, kick-starting a three-year college career in which the New Orleans native piled up 5,562 all-purpose yards and twice finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Johnson probably won’t have a player like that on his first Tulane roster, but he said the experience with Faulk in 1991 helped him develop an indifference regarding redshirts.
That could serve him well as he breaks in a talented, mostly homegrown batch of youngsters whose ability to contribute early could determine Tulane’s success this season.
How many true freshmen will play?
“Probably all of them,” Johnson said. “We need them all.”
Defensive backs Darion Monroe and Jordan Batiste are two of the newcomers already making waves. Perhaps the most decorated pair of prospects in Johnson’s first recruiting class could be starters in the Tulane secondary.
Also, Johnson said freshman quarterback Devin Powell will likely start the season as senior Ryan Griffin’s backup.
“The thing about the freshman class is that they are skilled,” Johnson said. “I think those DBs are something else, now. They can run. If you look at their numbers, this reminds me a little bit of what we did when I was at the University of Miami with guys like Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne as freshmen.”
Before helping Sean Payton win a Super Bowl as the Saints wide receivers coach, Johnson made his name in the college football ranks as an ace recruiter, bringing the likes of Wayne and Ed Reed to Miami after luring Faulk to San Diego State.
He has already had similar success at Tulane — especially in the New Orleans area.
Johnson and his staff have 17 commitments for the 2013 recruiting class. Twelve of them could reach St. Charles Avenue in 40 minutes or less.
Four of the early pledges carry a three-star rating.
“I tell them every day when I’m out recruiting, ‘I’m going to go out and get better players next year,’” Johnson said. “The next year, I’m going to get better players than then. The next year, I’m going to get better players than then. That’s what LSU did. That’s how they built their program. They just kept getting better and better players.”
Someone asked Johnson how long it would take before the LSUs of the world would have to worry about Tulane as a recruiting rival.
“Right now,” Johnson said. “They’ve got some battles going on right now.”
Johnson said he can sell recruits on the idea of helping accomplish something special at a school with rich history but little in the way of recent success.
But Johnson’s excitement isn’t limited to what Tulane may become. He also likes what the Green Wave may already be.
He said he and his staff are dedicated to coaching up the veterans they inherited from the Bob Toledo era and getting the youngsters ready for primetime. He isn’t concerned about being picked to finish last in the West Division of the Conference USA preseason poll.
“All it is, is a prediction,” Johnson said. “I predicted sunshine and blue skies all day today, and we got a monsoon.”