The Penn State walk-on program, even before the NCAA handed down scholarship-limiting sanctions, has provided countless opportunities for players that didn’t get scholarship offers coming out of high school to earn a roster spot on a big-time college team. Some of these players never see the field, but sometimes, a player can end up making a huge impact on the team.
Ryan Keiser, a senior from Selinsgrove, is looking to become the next former walk-on star to turn heads across the Big Ten. After working his way up the depth chart through his first three years, he’s ready to solidify his starting spot at free safety in 2014.
“The mentality of a walk-on is to ‘earn your spot’ every single day, and I still have that mentality,” said Keiser, who has played in some capacity in all but one game during his career at Penn State and earned a scholarship in February 2013. “Coming out here in camp, I’m going to come out here every day and earn my position, wherever it is on this defense, and I’m going to do my best to do that.”
Keiser played three sports in high school, and has used that versatility to his advantage. He’s been the holder on place kicks for most of the last three years, and has played other positions on special teams. The 2013 season was his breakout year, as he started five games at free safety and recorded three interceptions and 38 tackles. He even reached No. 6 on SportsCenter’s Top Plays with this game-winning interception against Illinois.
He and the rest of the defense will have to adjust to the fourth defensive coordinator in four years — “unheard of” in the history of Penn State football, as James Franklin said — but Keiser said the team is already adjusting to the new style of play taught by defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
“Coach Shoop is a great coach,” Keiser said. “He’s aggressive, and I think we’re going to stress [that]a lot. We’re going to be really ball-conscious. We really want to make plays on the football and get turnovers.”
He also said that one of the biggest differences between Shoop and John Butler, last year’s defensive coordinator, is that Shoop is already willing to listen to Keiser’s thoughts on the defense, despite only being with the program for seven months.
“That’s something he made clear from the beginning,” said Keiser. “He wanted a personal relationship with each guy and he cares about you. During film if you see something and say something, he won’t take it for granted. He’ll listen. It’s pretty cool.”
Shoop has recognized Keiser’s ability to see things from a different perspective, and mentioned him among the leaders of the defense at his press conference on Monday.
“I think we are excited about the experience in the secondary,” Shoop said. “Ryan Keiser is the proverbial coach on the field and is an underrated athlete. There’s a guy who made a lot of plays.”
While Keiser may not be a walk-on anymore, don’t think he’ll start to relax or take it easy during his final year.
“We want to be the best in the Big Ten, we want to be the best in the country,” Keiser said. “Secondary-wise, defense-wise, and as a team, just like every other year.”
“It’s crazy that this is our last camp, our last run at it, but we’re excited. We want to be the best we can be out here, for the fans, and to remember for a lifetime what this game was like. So we’re going to come out here every day and compete during camp, and just keep working each day.”