An early look at who, so far, will be wearing the newly-allowed number on the MAC gridiron. (Spoiler alert: not enough!)
In April, the NCAA decided to let loose and get rid of a really petty roster uniform restriction. After all these years, the number zero is finally an eligible number for footballers to wear — no more than two per team.
The panel approved a rule that restricts the number of teammates wearing the same jersey number to two. The rules regarding players using duplicate numbers continue to require that they play different positions and aren’t on the field at the same time.
The Football Rules Committee recommended this adjustment to reduce the confusion caused by multiple players wearing the same number. Allowing more than two players with the same number has created confusion for the game officials and has made scouting opponents difficult. To respond to the popularity of single-digit numbers, players can wear “0” as a legal number.
The NCAA didn’t have to sound so bent out of shape about why players are finally allowed to wear #0 because everybody knows that’s a cool sports number, believe it or not. If you don’t like it, then blame Gilbert Arenas.
So far, there are only six athletes across five Mid-American Conference teams to have #0 as their official uniform number.
Akron: WR Julian Hicks
Hicks is in his second year with the Zips after he transferred from Central Michigan. Last year in the #17 jersey, Hicks caught 32 passes for 212 yards and scored two touchdowns. With the move, Hicks wasn’t on scholarship in 2019, but is on scholarship with the team now. In 2018 when he was at CMU, Hicks caught 28 passes for 313 yards and 4 TD as a redshirt-freshman.
Ball State: DE Chris Agyemang
Agyemang is a newcomer for the Ball State defense, but this’ll be his one and only season in Muncie. This defensive end transferred in from Sacred Heart (FCS) where he was a two-time First Team All-Northeast Conference player and team captain. With Sacred Heart, Agyemang last wore #92.
Bowling Green: none
Buffalo: DT Eddie Wilson
Buffalo’s Eddie Wilson is going to wear #0 as a returning defensive tackle. He got going right away as a true freshman in 2018 with 14 games played and 17 total tackles, then started every game as a sophomore where he recorded 24 tackles, 2.5 for loss (2 sack), and two forced fumbles. Wilson last wore #91 for the Bulls.
Central Michigan: none
Central’s 2020 roster hasn’t been updated in a while for what it’s worth. Just looking at the low-numbered players right away, there are two guys still listed that are actually put their names in the transfer portal: QB George Pearson (#8) and DB Montrae Braswell (#10, now at Missouri State).
Eastern Michigan: none
Nobody at EMU has the #0 jersey right now.
There have been seven new single-digit assignments for this year’s roster, but nobody has the #0 or #2 jerseys so far. The #2 assignment I assume will be given to a top receiver on the team with respect to the late Demarius Reed.
Kent State: none
Kent State doesn’t have anybody wearing #0, but single-digit numbers aren’t as easy to come by with Sean Lewis as the head coach. He’s treated single-digit uniforms as a bad of honor for his program, which currently only applies to four guys: LB Cepeda Phillips (#4), CB Keith Sherald Jr. (#5), QB Dustin Crum (#7), and S Elvis Hines (#8). Crum and Sherald are both new to the single-digit club for the Flashes this year.
Northern Illinois: LB Jordan Cole & QB Rodney Thompson
NIU’s the only MAC program with two guys sporting the new #0 look: Jordan Cole and Rodney Thompson.
Cole’s a redshirt-junior linebacker that last wore #45 for the Huskies, and started eight games last year after being mostly a backup and special teams player in 2018. Last year, Cole recorded 37 total tackles, 5.5 for loss, and deflected one pass. Even in his minimal playing time as a freshman, Cole still got 28 total tackles and caused a pair of fumbles.
Thompson’s a new quarterback for the Huskies but everybody’s a new quarterback for the Huskies these days, it feels like. Thompson is one of five new quarterbacks on NIU’s roster right now, and there’s still a sixth guy that needs to be added on. Thompson transferred to NIU from Palomar College in California, Tom Vatter’s another JUCO transfer from College of DuPage, Andrew Haidet transferred from Houston Baptist for his final season, and Dustin Fletcher and Drew Cassens signed with the team out of high school. Connor Neville, an East Mississippi Community College transfer, is the final addition that still needs to be amended onto NIU’s public roster.
Toledo: CB Samuel Womack
Womack had a breakout season last year with the Rockets. Last year, the Detroit native recorded 59 total tackles (49 solo) and was tied for second in the country with 15 passes defended.
Western Michigan: none
Curiously, Western Michigan doesn’t have anybody listed at #0 when I thought D‘Wayne ’Eskridge would be the perfect guy to wear it this year. The former receiver turned two-way player changed his uniform number from #7 to #1, but DE Ali Fayad is also still wearing #1 for the Bronco defense.
Eskridge was hurt for all but four games last year, but still recorded 14 tackles and four passes defended in his first collegiate season on defense. In my simple mind, it just makes sense to have the noteworthy two-way guy wear the #0 jersey, but I also don’t get paid to organize real-life football teams.