Adam Breneman Ready For An Impactful Return To Penn State Football
On August 30, 2014, Sam Ficken’s last-minute field goal sealed a 26-24 win for Penn State over Central Florida in Ireland. Gone from that team are many of its key players, including Ficken, Mike Hull, and Jesse James. But one of the team’s leaders will return – though he didn’t play in the game, he still got involved watching from the press box.
Adam Breneman, one of the most important recruits in the sanctions era, came to Penn State and was expected to be one of the key emblems of the football program moving forward. In his freshman season, he showed flashes – he caught 15 passes from fellow first-year Christian Hackenberg, including three touchdowns in the last three games of the season. The two developed an impressive rapport and big things seemed to be on the horizon for the duo. Then, a familiar stroke of horrible luck hit in the spring and sent Breneman to the sidelines. For the second time in three years, Breneman’s knees took him out of the game he worked so hard for.
All of the accolades he earned in high school were well-deserved. In his junior year at Cedar Cliff High School, he had 72 catches, more than 1,100 yards, and 12 touchdowns, and the statistics’ impact wasn’t lost on the young man himself.
“My junior year of high school, I had a big season and I really felt like I was one of the best players in the country,” he said at Penn State’s Lift for Life.
But nothing gold can stay, and the next year, tragedy struck. After being ranked as the nation’s No. 1 tight end prospect, Breneman was injured his senior year. Penn State’s interest in him didn’t waiver, however, and he and Bill O’Brien made good on their commitments to each other. One of the most significant recruits in recent years (arguably the second-most after Hackenberg) entered his freshman season with a lot to prove.
“I got hurt my senior year [of high school], I came back my freshman year, but then I was still coming off ACL surgery,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was really good at football again until the second half of the season, where I got my speed back, my athleticism back, felt confident again.”
His mental and physical well-being showed as he and Hackenberg connected consistently en route to a 7-5 season.
Bill O’Brien left that offseason, and with his departure came a new wave of excitement for Penn State’s energetic new coaching staff led by James Franklin. Breneman figured to play a key role in John Donovan’s offense, until an injury in spring football kept him on the sidelines all year. As with all things, the well-spoken tight end found ways to spin the negatives into positives.
“It was definitely cool to see the offense from a different perspective, sitting in the booth. Some games I’d sit up top and some games I’d be on the sideline. Mentally, you get a perspective on things that you don’t get… I think that missing two seasons of the last three for me has given me a perspective about football and how there’s more to life than football. When I was in high school I was kinda consumed by it, and I’d still say I’m consumed by it, but there’s worse things in life than missing a season.”
Breneman was able to watch sophomore Hackenberg lead a struggling offense to a 6-6 regular season before erupting in the Pinstripe Bowl for a 31-30 win. The tight end corps was generally praised for its raw talent, but no facets of the offense shone last year thanks to a rotten offensive line. The 6-foot-7 Jesse James stood out and ended up being drafted by the Steelers, Kyle Carter caught the game-tying touchdown in the bowl game, and Mike Gesicki was consistently lauded for his freakish athleticism (“He’s freakishly strong, athletic, fast, it’s been cool to see his athleticism go on to the field,” Breneman said). Carter and Gesicki will return with their combined 27 catches and one touchdown, leaving lots of room to expand offensive production. To take the next step forward as a team, the tight end unit will be among many parts of the team that has to step up, and its most well-known member is ready for that pressure.
“I’m 100 percent,” Breneman said. “I feel great, I feel as good as I have in a long time. It’s been a process for me getting back, and any time you miss a season is kind of a long process, mentally and physically, and I feel really good. We had testing last week and I tested the best I’ve tested in my whole life so I feel good.” (Breneman ran a low 4.6 40-yard dash and lost eight pounds since the spring.)
“It’s been a while since I played football. I was talking to some guys, when you come back from injury, in spring ball I felt methodical and slow, this is the point now where it’s the first time in a while where I’ve felt good at football again. It’s a good feeling and I want the season to come that much faster,” he added.
A few minor procedures, two “cleaned-up” knees, and one season later, the junior is among the most looked-up to leaders in the locker room, not that he would ever admit it.
“I think as far as leadership goes, we have a really tight-knit group at the tight end position, with me and Mike and Kyle and Brent (Wilkerson),” he said. “We’re a group and we compete as much as anyone does for playing time and for catches, we’re really close so I think everyone takes a leadership role with each other; we hold each other accountable. We’re doing extra work with each other, and then obviously there’s a void that Jesse left. Obviously everyone needs to step their game up.”
“I don’t think leadership’s a problem on our team, I’d say we have really good leadership,” he continued. “I’d say it’s just players holding each other accountable. If someone misses a workout it isn’t the coaches, it’s the players that hold that guy accountable. It hasn’t been one guy, you’ve seen the chemistry of our team build over the last few months and it’s been great.”
Lots of hype is surrounding Penn State’s 2015 squad, and rightfully so. An easy schedule and an elite quarterback are two elements in a winning formula, then add in a second-year coach and a former elite recruit in the best shape of his life, and the Nittany Lions could do some special things on the field. But still, Breneman and his teammates will be sure not to set their expectations out-of-reach, or at least not from the start.
“I’ve been around them so much […] I still haven’t played a game with this coaching staff, as weird as that sounds,” Breneman laughed.
With less than a month until the Nittany Lions take the field against Temple, it’s almost time to see if the Hackenberg-Breneman connection will be what it was expected to be two short years ago.