Countdown to Blue-White / 11 Days: Which Redshirt Freshmen Are Ready to Shine?
There may not be a term that dominated the Penn State football landscape throughout the 2012 season more than “senior.”
The starting quarterback was in his fifth season with the program. Two of the most vocal leaders on the team in Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich? Both seniors. Throw Matt Stankiewitch, Gerald Hodges, and Jordan Hill into the mix and a common theme begins to appear.
Rummage through any transcript of Bill O’Brien’s press conferences and it becomes rather difficult to find many times where he goes more than 30 seconds without complimenting the senior class including this heading into the season finale against Wisconsin.
“It’s hard to put into words, in my opinion, what this senior class means to this football program, to this athletic department, and to this university. You just can’t say enough about what this senior class has done and what they mean to Penn State.”
The departure of this memorable group has created a void that will need to be filled by younger players who have yet to see live game action. It is easy to forget about players who were redshirted the previous season, but some members of the 2012 recruiting class who sat out last fall will be very important going forward. They will be the first wave of players eligible to play in a bowl game as seniors in 2016, but making an immediate impact will be just as vital.
Last fall saw defensive end Deion Barnes, offensive tackle Donovan Smith, and tight end Kyle Carter all burst onto the scene as redshirt freshmen while linebacker Ben Kline and defensive end Anthony Zettel also contributed on defense.
While Anthony Stanko, Wendy Laurent, and Brent Wilkerson may still be waiting their turn behind some solid offensive line and tight end depth, many redshirt freshmen are poised contribute:
- Nyeem Wartman — If things had gone according to plan, Wartman would not be in this group. He blocked a punt in the opener against Ohio and look poised to make an impact as a true freshman, but an ankle injury in Week 2 resulted in him receiving a medical redshirt. “I see a lot of athleticism in Nyeem,” said senior middle linebacker Glenn Carson. “He’s very physical, and I think he has a bright future for us.” As the one redshirt freshmen fully expected to have a starting role, big things are expected from the linebacker this fall.
- Akeel Lynch — Combine Zach Zwinak’s size with Bill Belton’s quickness, and one arrives at Lynch, according to O’Brien. “He had a tremendous offseason in the weight room and really improved his speed and conditioning,” said O’Brien at the onset of spring practice. Zwinak enters as the starter at running back, but Lynch will see his share of carries in the fall.
- Malik Golden — An offseason switch from receiver to safety could get Golden on the field pretty quickly. Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong have the two starting spots locked down, but Golden has impressed new safeties coach Anthony Midget so far this spring. “He’s a guy that’s very talented and has done some good things,” said Midget during a conference call last week.
- Eugene Lewis — One of the most athletic and highest rated prospects from the Nittany Lions’ 2012 class, Lewis, with good size and speed, has a chance to be a playmaker on offense. Brandon Moseby-Felder will likely start opposite Allen Robinson, but the 6-foot-1 198 pound receiver will get some looks.
- A Trio of Defensive Tackles — According to DaQuan Jones, it is a “three way tie” between Austin Johnson, Derek Dowrey, and Brian Gaia, all battling to start next to the massive senior. They will have to hold off junior Kyle Baublitz, but this is a position group worth watching over the next few months.
- Evan Schwan — The defensive end has not received as much attention as the aforementioned players, but should not be counted out. Someone will end up starting opposite Barnes at the other defensive end spot, and given Larry Johnson Sr.’s propensity for rotating linemen, Schwan could step into Zettel’s situational role last year that saw him rack up four sacks.
Wartman is the lone player guaranteed ample playing time right away, but more than a few of these guys could easily become household names this coming season. For the Nittany Lions to build off the success that the 2012 senior class left behind, they’ll need to.
This is the 23rd in a 33-day series about Penn State football program leading up to the Blue-White Game on April 20. Click here for past installments in the series.