Very few players in college football history have ever risen from out of nowhere like Carl Nassib. Coming in as a walk-on and having backup role with the Nittany Lions for most of his college career to becoming the Lombardi Award winner his senior season, the former Penn State defensive end made a number of off the field changes to reach that peak.
James Franklin noted those physical changes are something that he’s harped on with the players he’s brought in, but no one has exemplified it as well as Nassib.
“His senior year he made major changes in his nutrition and his sleeping patterns, and really physically changed and led the nation in sacks,” Franklin said.
Having gained 36 pounds over the course of his career at Penn State, Nassib became one of the best players in the nation largely as a result of those changes.
With that, Franklin sees some similarities in senior middle linebacker Jason Cabinda, who’s gone the opposite way to become a more versatile, hybrid-type player.
“What happens a lot of times with guys in high school or early in college is that you think you got to get big, big, big, big, big,” Franklin said. “There was a point there where [Cabinda] was almost 250 pounds, and I think through his experiences and our experiences we said ‘that’s good,’ but [Cabinda’s] a very physical player whether he’s 250 or 235.”
Not losing a step on the physicality side of the game is crucial, but being able to keep up pace-wise is the driving force behind the decision. The need to keep up with smaller, faster running backs and more pass-catching tight ends in the game has driven linebackers to become that type of hybrid player, even with a few safety-to-linebacker converts like Koa Farmer.
Having that opportunity to step outside the tackles and be able to contribute more in other parts of the field is what excites Franklin about Cabinda.
“What this does, it gets him to a weight where he’s still comfortable playing a physical aspect of the game, but it increases his athletic ability,” Franklin said. “He’s already an athletic guy and a quick guy, but obviously when you’re not carrying 15 extra pounds, he’s got a chance to be a sideline-from-sideline guy instead of a tackle-from-tackle guy.”
Taking fast food out of his diet and really focusing on changing parts of his life off the field is paying dividends for the senior early on in spring ball.
“I’m just feeling fast,” Cabinda said. “I just felt like, if I had my weight down and I was playing fast, I wouldn’t really lose my physicality because physicality is a mindset really. It’s really going well. I really love the way I’m playing, how I’m moving.”