Nyeem Wartman: A Leader From The Start
Fans have become accustomed to seeing Nyeem Wartman make plays all over the field on Saturdays. Wartman plays with such tenacity and aggressiveness, perfectly resembling the mold of a traditional linebacker. In only two seasons of action, Wartman has made his presence felt, thanks to his tireless work ethic and relentless motor, but his impact was felt long before he took the field in Blue and White.
Wartman’s place in Penn State lore began the second he committed to Penn State back in July of 2011. The three-star prospect had attracted the attention of schools like Florida, NC State, and Pitt after earning first team All-Pennsylvania honors and tearing up the competition in the prestigious Big 33 Football Classic — a game featuring some of Pennsylvania’s brightest young talent. Among the schools interested in Wartman’s talents was Penn State.
Wartman committed, and the Valley View High School product was expected to become the successor to Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Everything seemed to be going well for the young linebacker, that is, until the unthinkable occurred. News of the Sandusky scandal in November 2011 scared away most recruits, but not all of them. Despite reopening his recruitment for a brief period, Wartman was among those who kept their word to the Nittany Lions, and after reassuring the coaches of his commitment to the university, the young linebacker would join one of the most important recruiting classes in Penn State’s history. He also became an integral part of Bill O’Brien’s first class of signees, and even more importantly, he played the role of keeping his class together.
He had already displayed tremendous leadership, and he hadn’t even played a down yet for the Nittany Lions. It seemed that Wartman was going to be special, as if the connection between him and Penn State was just meant to be. Looking back on it, I’d say that he was destined to become a Nittany Lion.
After he played the role of ambassador in the offseason, it was time to begin the 2012 football season. On paper, it appeared Wartman would be buried beneath guys like Mauti, Hodges, and Glenn Carson. However, Wartman’s unrelenting work ethic and stellar play in preseason camps earned him a spot in the linebacker rotation as a true freshman. He didn’t take too long to make an impact either.
In the 2012 season opener against Ohio, Wartman was one of six true freshmen to see the field for Penn State, flashing moments of brilliance throughout. His debut ended with one tackle, and one momentum-swinging blocked punt in the second quarter. Fans and experts alike were salivating at the freshman’s potential, and it seemed as though Wartman was poised to have a big effect on the season.
Those aspirations swiftly crashed down to Earth, as Wartman suffered a knee injury on the opening kickoff of that fateful game against Virginia, bringing an abrupt end to a season filled with promise. All was not lost, however, as he was awarded a medical redshirt by the NCAA, meaning he would retain his freshman status and not lose a year of eligibility.
Through tireless rehabilitation and training efforts, Wartman worked his way back into the starting lineup permanently. He made his season debut starting alongside Glenn Carson and Mike Hull, filling the void left open by the departed Gerald Hodges. Despite garnering hype prior to the season opener against Syracuse, Wartman had a modest day, recording three tackles against the Orange.
He followed up his lackluster season debut, however, by recording a much better game — six tackles and three pass deflections the following week against Eastern Michigan. Wartman finished the 2013 campaign with 32 tackles, two and a half for a loss, one sack, four pass deflections, and one forced fumble. Wartman didn’t solely excel on the field — he flourished in the classroom too. He was selected to the 2013 Academic All-Big Ten team, a fitting end to an excellent first full season.
2013 was only the beginning for Wartman, as he realized that his full potential had not been reached. There were some big holes left open in the linebacker corps, most notably Glenn Carson due to graduation and Ben Kline due to an Achilles injury. Mike Hull would be the anchor in the middle, but he needed a playmaking counterpart alongside him, and who else could fill that role better than Wartman? He worked on his game in the offseason in an effort to take the next step and elevate his production.
For Wartman, the year of experience made a huge difference. He opened up the 2014 season with a six-tackle performance against UCF, and alongside Mike Hull and Brandon Bell, would go on to form one of the nation’s most dominant group of linebackers. While Hull emerged into the national spotlight, Wartman ensured those around the Big Ten knew his name with bone-crushing hits and relentless pressure against the run.
Though he did not record a sack, Wartman finished the 2014 campaign with 64 total tackles, two for a loss, and one interception, all while missing one game against Northwestern due to a hand injury. His presence at outside linebacker was a big reason that Penn State’s defense ranked among the best in the country, and the strides that he made throughout the course of the season could mean big things for 2015.
“I wasn’t thinking, I was just playing,” Wartman said regarding his downhill style of play against the run. “When a team gets into the I-formation to run the ball, that’s my style of football, because I played it in high school. That’s my comfort zone, and why I love playing against the run.”
It’s no coincidence that Wartman’s best games came in the spotlight either. Against Ohio State, he could be seen making plays all over the field. The nine tackles he recorded against the Buckeyes matched his season high and played a crucial role in taking Urban Meyer’s team to the brink of defeat.
One of the most impressive qualities about Wartman is that, despite all of the success, he is eager to improve and take the team to the next level.
“I’m tremendously proud, but at the same time, we can be better,” Wartman said. “There were times when the game came down to us, and we couldn’t get the job done. I respect all of how well we’ve ranked this season, but I’d much rather get the W’s.”
That team-first attitude is one Wartman expressed ever since he signed his letter of intent to play at Penn State, and it is why he will continue to succeed. He is a nice break from the bevy of selfish athletes in the world of sports only worried about their individual statistics. Wartman is the leader that this defense needs, especially with Hull graduating after this season.