Nyeem Wartman Adjusting To His Role As Defensive Anchor
The absence of Mike Hull will be the most glaring difference between last year’s defensive unit and the current squad. 140 tackles and veteran leadership — through words and actions — is not easily replaced; these are special traits that aren’t found in every football player. Redshirt junior linebacker Nyeem Wartman knows this, which is why he wants to take what he’s learned from Hull over the years, and make the middle linebacker position his own this coming season.
Wartman has been a steady playmaker for the Nittany Lions ever since he took the field as a redshirt freshman back in 2013. He flashed a knack for stopping the run, while demonstrating a ferocious nose for the ball. He’s aggressive, and emanates those same characteristics that made Hull the special player he is. This season, however, Wartman won’t be playing second fiddle to Hull; he’ll be the man to anchor the ship.
“Mike Hull wasn’t much of a talker during games, he led by example,” Wartman said Tuesday. “I owe so much to him.”
Wartman learned that he’d make the transition from outside linebacker — a position he’s played the four years he’s been in Happy Valley — and bump down inside at the middle linebacker spot in February prior to the commencement of spring practice.
“I learned about a month before spring ball,” Wartman said. “Right now we’re just trying to see who fits where in practice, trying to find the best fit for everybody.”
Wartman has come a long way since 2013, and his attitude reflects that.
“I gained a lot of confidence last year,” Wartman said. “I can be the person I think I can be, and I want to be a leader for this team. I’m not trying to force it, I’m just trying to show the guys that I care about this team and this game by playing with that confidence and set an example for the guys out there.”
Playing in the middle, Wartman will have a greater sense of control given that he’ll be the pseudo quarterback of the defense. He’ll take over the defensive play-calling duties, meaning he’s responsible for ensuring players are lined up correctly, conveying the play-call throughout the defense while avoiding confusion, and so on. In other words, it’s a major responsibility. But Wartman is not phased; he’s ready for the challenge.
“You can just control the defense [playing MLB] knowing you’re the guy setting everybody up,” Wartman said. “I just like the liberty of that.”
Wartman’s style of barking orders differs from Hull’s style of play-calling, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by members of the defense.
“There’s a certain way I call the defense,” Wartman said. “Some of the defensive linemen like me calling it a certain way, the way Mike Hull called it. When I was calling it, they understood me, but they didn’t really like it. The biggest adjustment is my wording when I’m calling the plays, and making sure the guys are lined up and don’t have to think about it.”
Wartman brings desirable traits to the table, and at 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds, he could be in line for a stellar season. Wartman has been limited in practice, and could be unavailable for Saturday’s Blue-White scrimmage, but that shouldn’t draw concern. Wartman will continue to grow into his new role as spring rolls along.
Wartman might not be Mike Hull, but he’s ready to turn some heads in 2015 by forging his own path. From mentee to authoritative leader, Nyeem Wartman is set to grab hold of the reigns and elevate Penn State’s defensive unit to new heights.