Football: Redshirt freshmen are impact players for Ohio in their first year of athletic eligibility

 

Redshirt freshman kicker Louie Zervos lines up for a field goal in the second quarter of Ohio’s game against Tennessee on Sept. 17. Zervos continued his fine beginning to the season by going 4 for 4 on field goals. (FILE)

Although they are redshirt freshmen, Louie Zervos, Javon Hagan and Elijah Ball have not failed to be impact players in their first season of athletic eligibility.

Each player plays a key role in his unit. Zervos, a kicker, leads the Mid-American Conference in field goals and is ranked No. 3 in the NCAA. Hagan, a safety, leads the team in interceptions. Ball, a wide receiver, has two touchdowns for 163 yards.

On Nov. 22, Zervos tied the record for most field goals kicked by a freshman when Ohio defeated Akron 9-3 to seal the MAC East Division. Zervos kicked three field goals — all of Ohio’s points.

Ohio hadn’t won a game without scoring a touchdown since the 1970s.

“It’s just a blessing, coming out here and being able to kick, staying healthy,” Zervos said. “I didn’t expect I would have this many field goals this time in the year.”

Zervos’ humility has perhaps helped him succeed. He said coach Frank Solich hasn’t talked with him about the importance of his three field goals against Akron.

“I don’t think he wants me to get too big of a head,” Zervos said. “He just wants me to stay humble and keep doing what I’m doing.”

Though Zervos’ kicking skills serve Ohio well, Hagan has similarly influenced the defense.

Hagan not only leads the team in interceptions, but he is tied for No. 7 in the MAC in the category. The leaders are four players that are tied for No. 1 with four interceptions. Along with that, Hagan is tied for No.1 in the MAC and No. 4 in the country for forced fumbles with five.

“It’s a blessing to come out and finally get to showcase my talent,” Hagan said.

Hagan attributes his play to learning from the team’s upperclassmen who graduated last year.

“Now that the years came around, I was like ‘time to showcase my talents and what I’ve learned from those guys,’ ” Hagan said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to go out and help my team as much as I can.”

Like Zervos and Hagan, Ball feels blessed for what he has been able to do this season.

For Ball, it is nice having touchdowns and receptions — but he is mainly focused on helping the team win.

“As long as I’m doing my job with 100 percent effort, then that’s what matters most,” Ball said.

Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps a team-wide mentality, Zervos, Hagan and Ball each said their success is a blessing.

The reality, however, is that those players had breakout seasons. Whether it was Zervos kicking four field goals in the first half against Tennessee, Hagan roaming the field in search of an interception or Ball making a 36-yard jump ball catch against Buffalo, Ohio has benefited from the play of those players.

And for that, Ohio is in its first MAC Championship Game since 2011. Ohio and Western Michigan will vie for the MAC title Friday at 7 p.m. at Ford Field in Detroit.

“We’ve gotten to this point in the season where everything we’ve done before builds up to this moment,” Ball said.

 

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