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Boys To Men: Top MAC Sophomores

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In 2012, a handful of freshmen took their first step to becoming the next stars of the Mid-American Conference.

As freshmen, some earned weekly MAC honors on offense, defense and special teams. Some stepped in for starters and earned raves from their coaches and opponents. Here is a look at some of the leading freshmen from last season. Can they avoid the sophomore jinx? Read about these newly-minted sophomores and judge for yourself.

Boomer Mays, linebacker, Northern Illinois: If Northern Illinois repeats as MAC champion, it will depend on young players stepping into bigger roles. None will be bigger than Mays playing middle linebacker. He played in nine games last season as a redshirt freshman, including the Discover Orange Bowl, finishing the season with 30 tackles. He registered seven tackles against Army on Sept. 15.

Kassan Messiah, linebacker, UMass: Messiah was the top freshman tackler in the MAC last season, recording 65 stops and a sack in nine games. The effort ranked him 22nd in tackles among all conference players in 2012. He recorded a season-high 16 tackles against Bowling Green on Oct. 16.

Marlon Moore, defensive back, Northern Illinois: Moore made a name for himself with eight tackles against Ball State on Oct. 6 last year. Moore got his first start the following week against Buffalo and grabbed two interceptions. That earned him MAC defensive player of the week honors. Moore’s play will be critical as coaches look for someone to take over the leadership role provided by last year senior All-MAC defensive back performer Jimmy Ward. Coaches will be expecting more consistency out of the Mobile, Ala. native in his sophomore season.

Daz Patterson, running back/kick returner, Ohio: Sitting behind a talented offensive backfield last season, Patterson went out and made a name for himself as a kick returner, leading the Bobcats with a 24.2-yard return average. His 100-yard kickoff return against Buffalo on Oct. 6 earned him MAC special team player of the week honors. The Plant City, Fla., speedster played in 12 games for the Bobcats including the Advocare Independence Bowl. Expect Ohio to be more creative in getting him the ball as teams concentrate on senior Beau Blankenship and veteran quarterback Tyler Tettleton.

Trent Voss, linebacker, Toledo: Voss was just one of a small group of freshman position players to earn MAC Player of the Week honors last year, collecting 12 tackles, 2.5 for losses and a sack against Akron in Week 13. The East Grand Rapids, Mich., product finished the season with 47 tackles, 3.5 sacks as a backup. Currently, he’s slated to start at the “Star” linebacker position in the Rockets defense. “I really thought by the end of the year he was one of our best players on defense,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell told the Independent Collegian in April. “The ceiling for him is as high as he wants to make it.”

Jaime Wilson, wide receiver, Western Michigan: Wilson is the reigning MAC freshman of the year. He was named to several freshman All-American teams as well. The Belle Glade, Fla., native led the Broncos in receptions (67) and receiving yards (792) in 2012, the first freshman to do that for WMU. His statistics placed him among the top wide receivers in the MAC last season. Wilson played in 10 games, started in eight and had a stretch of three-straight 100-yard-plus receiving games. He had 10 catches for 117 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota on Sept. 15. A former high school track standout, expect WMU to try to get Wilson more in open space this season to increase his 11.8 yards per catch from 2012.

Others to look for: Chris Gallon, wide receiver, Bowling Green State; Anthony Melchiori, punter, Kent State; Dylan Molder, kicker, Eastern Michigan; Kyle Pohl, QB, Akron; Robert Stein, kicker, Alonzo Russell, WR, Toledo; Akron; Deion Walker, WR, UMass; Mike Wegzyn, QB, UMass.