Now Cast-Free, Wartman Poised For A Big Finish
This time last year, he was making the switch from backup to starter. Earlier this season, he made the transition from starter to star.
Now, Nyeem Wartman is just trying to become his usual self again.
On Saturday at Indiana, Wartman played his first game in over a month without a cast after breaking his hand earlier this year. “I’m getting used to putting my hand on people again,” he said following the 13-7 victory in which his defense didn’t allow an offensive score. “It’s a different style of play.”
With a free hand, Wartman had a breakout game. He led the team with fellow linebacker Mike Hull, picking up seven tackles. He intercepted the Hoosiers’ Zander Diamont late in the fourth quarter to set up Sam Ficken’s game-securing field goal. He nearly collected a Diamont fumble in the third quarter. And he shut down Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, holding the star running back to 71 yards on the ground. Still, Wartman wanted more.
He said he should have found the end zone on his 13-yard interception return had he taken a different route. “I definitely could have had a chance to get the end zone,” he said. “Next time I’m going to try to take advantage of that.”
The interception was the first of his career.
“I keep telling everybody on the team that I have sauce,” he said. “Wait until I get the ball, I’m going to do something with it.”
Wartman played in every game last year and started eight. He finished with 32 tackles, tenth best on the team. Those aren’t bad numbers, but he was overshadowed by Mike Hull at outside linebacker and Glenn Carson in the middle. Now, Hull has transitioned to middle linebacker. That has allowed Wartman and, on the other side, Brandon Bell to shine. This year, Wartman is second on the team in tackles behind Hull despite missing a game.
“Both of us try to admire each other,” said Wartman of Bell, who showed flashes last year, but only started against Wisconsin and his since been shoved into a full-time starting role. “We try to push each other.”
Wartman said Hull has also been crucial in challenging and improving him and Bell.
“Nyeem is like a brother,” said Bell. “He hosted me on my official visit, and I’ve been learning from him ever since.”
Wartman also praised his defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Like other defensive players, Wartman oozes admiration for Shoop.
“It’s very satisfying,” he said of the defense’s recent performances. “Coach Shoop draws up a very good game plan, and we just need to execute.”
But Wartman himself takes most of the responsibility for his improvement. He admitted that he would question his ability last season. He recently watched all of his games from last year on film in an effort to understand his weaknesses and increase his football intelligence.
“I felt like I needed to work harder,” he said Tuesday. “I knew I could play at a high level, I just had to work for it.”
That has translated to on-field success. The Nittany Lions boast the sixth-best scoring defense in the country. Penn State wouldn’t be near its 5-4 record without the defense consistently bailing out the sparkless offense.
“Our mindset is three-and-out every drive,” Wartman said Tuesday. After the win on Saturday, Hull said the defense could have gone much, much longer without allowing the Hoosiers to score.
Up next for Wartman, Hull, Bell, and the rest of Penn State’s defense is Temple. Wartman said Temple expressed interest in him after Penn State offered him a scholarship, but the Owls said he first needed to prove his worth at a training camp before he could get an offer.
“You get a Penn State offer,” said Wartman, “you don’t need to go to a Temple camp to prove yourself.”