Spring football is finally here — you know, the season of football that means more than anything in the world for the next month but diddly squat by July.
This is a helpful guide to understand the 10 different types of football players you’re going to hear about before school’s out for summer.
You know Speed Guy. Everybody knows Speed Guy. He’s the fella other players in interviews say had a blazing-fast 40-yard dash time during winter training. He’s a wide receiver in the Big 12, a cornerback in the SEC, or an all-purpose back in the Pac-12 — and no one’s ever heard of him in the Big Ten.
But he’s fast.
He’s greased lightning. He’s Barry Allen in pads. He moves quicker than a bottle of Kaopectate through a constipated stomach.
And we know all of this because he (allegedly) threw down the first sub-three-second 40 time in history. By golly, just wait until you get to see this guy play during the spring game. He’ll be in uniform. He’ll be on the sideline. He’ll even get onto the field.
But they won’t throw the ball anywhere near him.
Rhinoceros-Strong Guy isn’t just strong by football standards. He apparently had a run-in with some gamma rays during bowl prep over the winter break and came out looking a lot like Samaje Perine — if Perine was the size of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and spooned nails for breaks while we mere mortals munch Cheerios.
He’s put up the kind of numbers on bench press, in the squat rack, and on the power clean platform that make Saquon Barkley blush. By April, you’ll have heard how Rhinoceros-Strong Guy hang-cleaned a Peterbilt truck because they ran out of 45-pound plates in the weight room.
Strength coaches in the Big Ten believe he’s a freak of nature, a Greek demigod, a biblical Samson dropped into the Midwest as a great gift to the gridiron. Strength coaches in the SEC think he’s a little small, but they can work with him.
This fella came in weighing a bit more than Floyd Mayweather in sweaty clothes, but his ball skills earned him a scholarship to your school. Still, he was a project when he arrived on campus. And your strength coach knew there was only one way to stuff this turkey.
Put-On-So-Much-Weight Guy will be seen sipping protein shakes stuffed with crushed saltine crackers during interviews this spring. The shakes won’t be chocolate- or vanilla-flavored whey protein — instead, they'll be purple and filled with jelly and creatine. When a reporter asks this player what he plans to do on the weekend after spring ball ends, he’ll nod to that stack of pizzas in the corner.
When the summer comes, Put-On-So-Much-Weight Guy will no longer be listed as a weak-side linebacker but a modern-day three-technique. And you’ll know exactly why.
This guy’s a walk-on — always a walk-on.
Scout-Team Guy showed up to practice one day and was handed a scout-team death shroud and toe tag so his body could be identified after a first-team All-American buries him 6 feet under.
He’s too small and too slow, and he’s probably playing out of position — like a 5-foot-6, 144-pound Rudy Ruettiger playing defensive end.
And yet all you’ll hear about is how this guy keeps making plays during practice. Every other interview is about how this guy showed up to make a tackle, to break up a pass, to make the one strip-sack fumble of the entire practice.
Then you’ll see him at the spring game, and he’ll play. He’ll play a lot. He’ll be all over the field, and you’ll begin to believe a regular Baker Mayfield has appeared before your eyes. Then a five-star offensive tackle will destroy him on a counter play, and you’ll thank sweet baby Jesus for his willingness to sacrifice his body to the football gods.
This player is one of the most highly rated incoming freshmen to don your school’s cap on National Signing Day. In the SEC, he’s a consensus five-star tailback. In the American, he was the Northeast Western Central District Player of Week after scoring two touchdowns and kicking five field goals in a win against a Class 2A rival.
He’s the guy who looks most ready to play right away. He’s big enough to compete with men two and three years older than him. He is also the guy coaches will most want to talk down.
“He’s just learning,” they’ll say. “Give him time,” they’ll say. “He might need a redshirt year.”
Truth is, Early-Enrollee Guy is gonna start in September. Anything else is a bold-faced lie.
This redshirt freshman is the player who will be touted most as ready to play next season. He’s the guy players will say in interviews has benefited most from a season of working out and watching — from a season of salivating. He’s raring to go, and he’s practicing like a man possessed.
Redshirt-Year Guy has taken that year of not playing football under the lights and in front of friends and family as a slight. And who could blame him? He’s played a season of football every year since he was 9 years old. Then he was told he couldn’t play last year.
He’s chippy. He’s raging. But he’s focused and searching out whom he might destroy at linebacker, make look silly at wide receiver, or run over at running back. Redshirt-Year Guy is all of us — and we’re pulling for him.
This guy played soccer in Texas, or rugby in California, or basketball in Florida, or Aussie rules football on a continent light years away. He brings a unique skill set to bear on America’s favorite sport. He’s raw, though. The intricacies of the game still escape him. But everybody can see the talent on display. He’s big, he’s fast, and he laughs through the blood in his mouth after catching an elbow underneath his facemask.
These are all good signs.
At the spring game, his technique will be trash. But you’ll know him by his burst. You’ll hear about Non-Football Guy spending extra time in the film room. Catching balls long after practice is over. Playing marathon Madden sessions on his Xbox One to better understand the game that could make him millions in time.
Even though he’s been on the roster for two years now, coaches still don’t know what position Versatility Guy plays. They just know they want him to play. He’s the recruit who was listed as an “athlete” by recruiting services because he is not quite a defensive back or a wide receiver but can seemingly play both.
You’ll hear about Versatility Guy being with the corners during position drills on Tuesday and working at the slot receiver position during the team period on Thursday. But the place he’s most likely to see the field is at kick and punt return. Just know this: Devin Hester, he ain’t.
This is the guy you’ll hear the most about during spring football. He’s the guy who made the miraculous play that can’t quite be described without his donning a red cape and blue spandex. Hearsay-Highlight Guy plays wide receiver in the Big 12, defensive tackle in the SEC, and quarterback in the Pac-12. He’s the graduate transfer from the Mountain West who's leaving for a Power Five school.
You’ll so want to believe the hype. You’ll want to emotionally invest in what you’ve heard from players about him and read into what coaches won’t say about him. You’ll want to know that the next Heisman Trophy winner plays at your school, and the most likely candidate is Hearsay-Highlight Guy.
Resist the urge, friend. It’s spring football. This is just one of those players you meet.
RJ Young is a former Oklahoma Sooners football and basketball beat writer, investigative journalist, essayist, novelist, and Ph.D student. His memoir "LET IT BANG" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) hits shelves and earbuds in October. His YouTube channel is fire if you're into storytelling and topics ranging from Baker Mayfield to The Rock's early wrestling career to this one time when a guy got a little too interested in RJ's Black Panther cup at a urinal inside of a movie theater.