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Amid an otherwise lost season, Temple’s young players getting valuable playing time

The Owls will start their fourth-string quarterback, as well as true freshmen at safety and linebacker.

Temple coach Rod Carey looking on during the season opener against Navy.
Temple coach Rod Carey looking on during the season opener against Navy.Read moreGail Burton / AP

It has been a miserable season for Temple’s football team, one marked by a huge number of injuries and players being placed in COVID-19 protocol.

The Owls are 1-5 overall and in the American Athletic Conference entering Saturday’s game against East Carolina (1-6, 1-5) in a noon matchup at Lincoln Financial Field.

Earlier this week, Temple coach Rod Carey said that if it were up to him, he wouldn’t have played the last three games because of his depleted roster. Carey and his staff are going deep into their depth chart, but the one positive is that a lot of young players are gaining valuable experience, many being thrown into the proverbial fire.

Just look at this week.

Freshman Matt Duncan, the Owls' fourth-string quarterback, will make his first career start one week after earning his first career snaps. In normal circumstances, Duncan wouldn’t have seen the field this season, even though the NCAA has ruled that this year won’t count on any football player’s eligibility.

Starter Anthony Russo will miss his fourth straight game, the first two because of a shoulder injury and the other two while in COVID-19 protocol. Carey said Russo is expected back Monday.

Redshirt sophomore quarterbacks Trad Beatty and Re-al Mitchell are both out with injuries. Mitchell, who made his first start in last week’s 38-13 loss at UCF, is out for the season, which consists of just one more game after Saturday. Beatty is out for at least this week.

Two freshmen have started each of the last two games: safety Alex Odom, from South Jersey’s Kingsway High, and linebacker Kobe Wilson.

Even before all the injuries hit, Odom was seeing action. He has played in all six games, and in his last two, he has totaled nine tackles. Wilson, from in Lilburn, Ga., made his first start Nov. 7 in a 47-23 loss to visiting SMU. He had been in COVID-19 protocol for two weeks before returning to practice the Thursday before the game.

The linebacking corps, among the most banged-up units on the team, needed him to step in.

“I never imagined starting now,” he said Tuesday. “Unfortunately for the linebackers getting hurt, that is the reason why I am starting."

This time last year, Odom was a highly touted running back and safety for Kingsway. This has been a big jump. The biggest adjustment is dealing with the athletic ability of college players.

“The speed and strength, everybody is super strong and fast, from what I have to play against, tight ends, receivers, and running backs," Odom said. “That was a big jump for me, but I am a big competitor, so you are really going to have to outwork me to beat me.”

That is the confidence that these young players need.

“Both of those players have really bright futures,” Carey said about Odom and Wilson. “Alex, really his first time playing an entire game [against UCF] because of the defensive packages we were playing, handled all the calls, did really well. Kobe, we knew he was going to be a special player around here.”

Carey and his staff likely didn’t think they would be evaluating the young players this early from game tape.

Very little has worked out this season, but having these freshmen and a number of redshirt freshmen accelerate their development has been a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season.