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It has to do with whether or not he was redshirted as a freshman. If he was redshirted, that means he did not play in any games during his first year at the college. Players are eligible to play in actual games for 4 years, those years are freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. If they redshirt, by the time they are team "seniors" they have actually been on the team for 5 years, thus "5th year." If a freshman doesn't redshirt, then he is referred to as a "true freshman." I assume this is the same for transfer players, but don't know.

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Q: What is meant by a fifth year senior when playing football in college?
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