As the end of summer draws near, I hear those familiar footsteps getting louder. You know the ones I’m talking about. The sound that always has its place in the background as we enjoy all that summer has to offer. The sound of Nittany Lions hard at work getting ready to launch another run towards greatness. Weight room gains, mid-summer training, and pads thumping in early August subtlety remind us that football is getting oh-so-close.
Year in and year out, James Franklin has been a master at getting us jacked up for opening kickoff, and this year is no exception, as we slowly try to return to normal. Forget the roller coaster of an off-season. Right now, I hear those familiar footprints getting louder, as the butterflies inside us start to stir. The Nittany Lions are coming and it’s time the Badgers hear our mighty ROAR!
As quickly as you can blink, that shiny white semi-truck with the bold blue stripe will be saddled up with equipment and headed mid-west to Wisconsin. Camp Randall is the destination of course, as Penn State jumps in paws-first with a rare season-opening clash against a Big Ten foe. By the way, if you’re still stuck in 2020, it’s time to catch up. Oh-and-five was ‘so yesterday,’ as the hipsters call it; a season that unraveled before the lions came roaring back. Quarterback Sean Clifford lived and breathed it more than anyone. This year, with the help of new Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich, Clifford aims to purge the demons that sent his follow-up 2019 campaign, as a first-year starter, into a downward spiral in 2020.
Noah Cain returns after missing all but one series with a lower leg injury, and trust me, some of those footsteps we hear coming are bound to be his, if you happened to catch a glimpse of the Florida-native rehabbed and 100% this summer. Toss in a proven Keyvone Lee (who ultimately took over in Cain's absence), along with speedsters Devyn Ford, Caziah Holmes, and transfer John Lovett, and the legend of the LawnBoyz remains alive and well. Up front Rasheed Walker, Mike Miranda, and Caedan Wallace anchor an O-Line that has the potential to be the best we’ve had in over a decade, and just last week James Franklin himself called the tight end room, led by Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson, the best he’s ever coached. Strong words for a program that has no less than four currently making major noise at the next level. Those footsteps are getting louder…
You most likely WON’T hear the footsteps of Jahan Dotson coming, but that’s only because he seems to hover and glide above the turf rather than touch it with his feet. The word smooth always comes to mind when I think of #5. He came back for unfinished business and by the time he’s done, he just might be one of the best to ever play. Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith represent the future after bursting onto the scene as true freshmen, and senior Cam Sullivan-Brown will be vying for plenty of playing time after battling injuries throughout most of 2020.
The overwhelming theme of Brent Pry's defense may be speed, speed, speed but it all begins up front in the middle as PJ Mustifer and Big Fred Hansard look to keep the middle as air-tight as a plug. The edge may be the biggest question mark for this squad but not for lack of talent as transfer Arnold Ebiketie, Zuriah Fisher and Nick Tarburton vie to fill the trails of fire left behind by Shaka Toney and Jason Oweh.
To help offset the loss of surefire starter Adisa Issac to injury, Pry has flirted with moving Jesse Luketa down from his Mike linebacker spot that could pay big dividends as LBU is chock full of rising stars. Brandon Smith leads the way with All-American potential and is one of two Penn State defenders named to Bruce Feldman's annual Freak List. Ellis Brooks and Luketa will tag-team the middle with former 5-star Curtis Jacobs taking over full-time opposite Smith, while Charlie Katsir, Jamari Buddin, Max Chizmar, and Kobe King are all expected to provide strong relief.
Defensive Backs Coach Terry Smith has a group of corners that could go three deep with Tariq Castro-Fields and Joey Porter Jr. expected to get the starting nods, and Marquis Wilson, DaeQuan Hardy, and transfers Johnny Dixon and AJ Lytton all getting time in the rotation. If that wasn’t enough assurance, true freshman Kalen King has earned nothing but rave reviews ever since he stepped foot on campus. At Safety, it’s a log jam and a five-man battle that’s still undecided between Ja'Ayir Brown, Keaton Ellis, Jonathan Sutherland, Tyler Rudolph, and Drew Hartlaub, all vying to replace Lamont Wade. On the strong side, Jaquan Brisker man’s his post like a military MP. He came back with unfinished business and is a distinguished member of this year’s Freak List, along with Smith. Now, how’s that for a last line of defense, just in case a Badger manages to sneak his way through the front lines?
Can you feel those footsteps yet? They’re getting louder by the minute. So close to kickoff, the jitters make our tummies tremble as the earth begins to quake. That sound of footprints growing stronger. Unfinished business has been locked and loaded, so go ahead and take your best shot at underdog Penn State. As summer starts to fade, we finally have another season knocking at the door. ‘On Wisconsin,’ so they say, but this year, it’s all about our mighty ROAR!