Five unfamiliar Cougars who can contribute in opener
As the UH Cougars prepare to take the field against the University of Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday in one of the most hyped games in 2016, the Cougars must function at the optimum level if they expect to win against the country’s No. 3 team.
While senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has been the focal point of everything the Cougars do, the team will need other individuals to perform if they want to knock off the Sooners.
Here are five players you may not have heard of who will lead the Cougars to a victory.
Sophomore cornerback Howard Wilson
Wilson is quietly one of the most experienced players in the Cougars’ new secondary.
During his freshman year in 2014, Wilson played in all 13 games, and even started in three when the team dealt with injuries. Wilson totaled 48 tackles and three interceptions.
After a strong freshman year, Wilson tore his anterior cruciate ligament just three games into the 2015 campaign. The corner applied for and was granted a medical hardship waiver, which restored his sophomore year.
He will team up with senior Brandon Wilson and sophomore Jeremy Winchester as the starters at the corner positions.
Junior wide receiver Ra’Shaad Samples
Samples came to the Cougars from Oklahoma State University and sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Samples played in six games in his lone season at OSU, but only hauled in three catches for 11 yards. Although his college play is not a large sample size, he was a productive and speedy receiver at Skyline High School in Dallas.
He is likely to fill in at the slot with the departure of Demarcus Ayers. He is a great inside receiver who possesses good hands.
With senior Chance Allen and junior Steven Dunbar playing on the outside, Samples will be a good third option for Ward in the middle of the field.
Junior defensive end Nick Thurman
With the emergence and continued dominance of seniors B.J. Singleton and Cameron Malveaux, Thurman has been overlooked on the defensive line.
He only started in one game last season, but appeared in all 13 games as a heavy-rotation player. Thurman was able to record 27 total tackles, including five for loss, and showed his awareness on the field as he recovered two fumbles.
Thurman will get the starting nod alongside Malveaux and Singleton in defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s 3-4 scheme.
All three will have the ability to disrupt the offensive line and get after Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Junior inside linebacker D’Juan Hines
Hines played in all 13 games last season, mostly on special teams, and has the unfortunate task of replacing the NFL-talent of the now-departed Elandon Roberts.
When he filled in as the starter for Roberts in last year’s game against the University of Connecticut, he had a career high in tackles with seven.
Hines is an athletic and mobile linebacker who can play sideline-to-sideline and get after the ball. Since entering college, he has added 35 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame. Despite his inexperience, Hines will get help from senior outside linebackers, and proven veterans, Tyus Bowser and Steven Taylor.
The Cougars will need Hines’ mobility to get after Mayfield and running back Samaje Perine.
Junior offensive tackle Na’Ty Rodgers
Rodgers comes to the Cougars by way of Iowa Western Community College, where he was an absolute force on the line. His performance there earned him the seventh rank in overall junior college player in the country.
Rodgers’ experience will be an asset as most of the starters are underclassmen. He will need to use his massive 6-foot-5, 292-pound frame to protect Ward on his throwing side.
The Sooners defensive line lost a vital player, Charles Tapper, so it will be up to Rodgers and the rest of the Cougar offensive line to bully OU and create running lanes for Ward and junior running back Duke Catalon.