Update 2:42 p.m.: Though Faison-Walden has plenty of time to progress, he’s been held out of spring practice with an injury.
Original: Much was made of Lamont Wade and Mike Miranda’s standout performances this spring, but Penn State’s other two early enrollees are also exciting prospects.
Speedy receiver K.J. Hamler isn’t quite back to full health after tearing his ACL last August during a preseason game for powerhouse IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he had transferred prior to his senior season. Brelin Faison-Walden was one of the top recruits coming out of North Carolina, and perfectly fits the mold of what Brent Pry wants in a rangy outside linebacker.
Hamler brings a winning mentality to State College, having claimed back-to-back state titles at Michigan’s Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, the alma mater of Allen Robinson, as a sophomore and junior. Despite watching from the sidelines last fall, his new team — the Ascenders — finished 12-0 and won the high school national championship. His dance moves will also be a nice addition to Penn State’s pregame warmups.
Faison-Walden was named to the USA Today All-State first team as a senior, recording 75 tackles and an interception in 2016 while splitting time between linebacker and safety.
He served as a two-year captain for Grimsley High School, and held a laundry list of national offers from schools like Alabama, Michigan, and Clemson. At 6’1″, 200 pounds, Faison-Walden can use his early arrival as an opportunity to add some size to his frame before the rest of the freshmen arrive this summer.
Penn State has outstanding depth at receiver and a solid two-deep at linebacker, meaning it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if Hamler and Faison-Walden end up redshirting this fall. However, if they can get their bodies ready for the college game in time, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to get them some experience in 2017.
Hamler is electric in the open field and could step into the team’s vacant punt return spot, while Faison-Walden could fill a coverage role on special teams if he ends up seeing the field.
Veterans like Brandon Polk and Manny Bowen are prime candidates to serve as mentors for their younger counterparts, as both know what it’s like to be pressed into significant roles as true freshmen.
Polk entered the program as an undersized slot receiver, but ended up making an impact quicker than his more heralded classmates Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles. Bowen made his debut against Temple as well following the second of Nyeem Wartman-White’s three season-ending knee injuries.
The Nittany Lions have the luxury of waiting on their freshmen to develop rather than automatically inserting them into the two-deep when scholarship restrictions were a major issue. But provided Hamler and Faison-Walden take full advantage of their head start, there’s a chance we see them suit up on Saturdays this fall.