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Penn State Football’s New Faces: True Freshman Update

Last season, Penn State fielded the second-youngest team in college football, ranking only above in-state rival and recruiting foe Pitt. This year, James Franklin’s Nittany Lions aren’t quite as green, but youthful contributors have still played a major factor through the first five games of the 2015 season. In fact, a whopping 18 true and redshirt freshmen have seen the field thus far.

Below, we’ll take a look at how Penn State’s true freshmen are progressing in their first season on campus. But first, let’s breakdown the five who have already made an impact in the blue and white.

Saquon Barkley | Running back | No. 26

Barkley leads Penn State in rushing with 373 yards and three electric touchdowns despite missing the second half against San Diego State, plus all of the Army game with an ankle injury. Barkley also added a 22-yard catch-and-spin for a score against the Aztecs.

And of course, who could forget his gravity-defying hurdle against Buffalo.

John Reid | Cornerback | No. 29

Reid arrived in Happy Valley as the most college-ready freshman on Bob Shoop’s loaded defense. The shutdown corner has already been lauded as one of the team’s hardest workers in the film room and the classroom. Reid was ready to go as soon as preseason camp rolled around, and was able to secure the third corner spot on the depth chart.

Reid started the first two games of his collegiate career as sophomore Grant Haley recovered from an injury, and so far, he’s tallied ten tackles (six solo), two pass breakups, three passes defended, a fumble recovery, and a 44-yard interception.

Manny Bowen | Outside linebacker | No. 43

Bowen was part of the coaching staff’s yellow light category heading into the season, but when junior linebacker Brandon Bell was dinged up in the season-opener against Temple, Bowen saw his name called. A versatile athlete, Bowen also excelled at wide receiver and safety for New Jersey’s Barnegat High School.

Bowen has been a regular presence on special teams coverage units, but this past weekend was a breakout game for the explosive linebacker, as he finished with a career-high six tackles (five solo) and his first fumble recovery in Bell’s absence.

Brandon Polk | Wide receiver | No. 10

While many thought Polk was destined for a redshirt this fall, the coaching staff was so impressed with the 5-foot-9, 170-pounder in preseason camp that he earned a green light designation. In fact, Polk took the Nittany Lions’ first offensive snap of the season 33 yards off an end around against Temple.

Already the team’s fastest player, Polk recorded his first career touchdown in the Week 2 win over Buffalo. Although he only has one catch for no gain, Polk sits in third place with 116 rushing yards on only eight carries. His unique role in Penn State’s offense continues to draw defensive attention from the opposition, making him a useful weapon for Christian Hackenberg’s unit.

*Fun Fact: Polk and redshirt freshman quarterback Trace McSorley led Briar Woods High School (Ashburn ,Va.) to a pair of State Championships in 2011 and 2012.

Jake Cooper | Outside linebacker | No. 33

Cooper, like Bowen, found himself a part of Linebackers Coach Brent Pry’s rotation down the stretch against Temple. Cooper has already shown some impressive intangibles in his development on the outside, but could eventually bump inside to the Mike spot.

Cooper has recorded five tackles (four solo), a pass breakup, a pass defended, and a sack through five games. Cooper and center Ryan Bates were high school teammates at Archbishop Wood in Warminster, Pa. The duo led Wood to a PIAA AAA State Championship in 2014.

Redshirt Candidates


Tommy Stevens | Quarterback | No. 4

Stevens, a dual-threat signal-caller with athleticism in spades, sits in the third spot on the depth chart behind second-year backup Trace McSorley.

Andre Robinson | Running back | No. 6

Robinson holds Pennsylvania powerhouse Bishop McDevitt’s all-time touchdowns record, an especially impressive feat when you consider that McDevitt is the alma mater of current Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy.

Juwan Johnson | Wide receiver | No. 84

Already being touted Megatron, Jr. for his identical last name and similar frame to star wideout Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions, Johnson could still potentially see the field this season, but more likely than not he’ll be given a year to improve upon his skill set. Big Ten secondaries, beware.

Irvin Charles | Wide receiver | No. 85

Charles checks in with the exact same measurements as Johnson (6-foot-4, 213-pounds), an exciting prospect for Wide Receivers Coach Josh Gattis, who’s constantly raved about the duo’s potential as game-changers.

Nick Bowers | Tight end | No. 83

Bowers will be a very good tight end for Penn State at some point down the road, and he’s already shown impressive blocking and pass-catching ability in practice. Bowers finished second with a silver medal in the PIAA AA shot put this past spring, highlighting his innate strength and burst — a trait that could admirably complement his game in the run blocking department.

Jonathan Holland | Tight end | No. 18

Holland had his choice of playing tight end or defensive end in college, and he’s found a home in John Donovan’s position room. Holland and his brother Adam have been successful business owners for some time now, operating AJ’s Hawaiian Iceez to help their family cover tuition costs during high school.

Sterling Jenkins | Offensive tackle | No. 76

Jenkins is an absolutely massive human being, standing all of 6-foot-8, 329-pounds. Jenkins arrived in State College this past January, allowing him the opportunity to participate in spring practice. While his game still needs some polishing, Jenkins has the makings of an outstanding left tackle down the road.

Ryan Bates | Center/Guard | No. 52

Bates has the versatility to play each and every position along Herb Hand’s offensive line, but he’s penciled in at center right now. The coaching staff hasn’t minced words about its excitement surrounding Bates’ potential. There have even been murmurs of Bates taking reps as a defensive tackle, but what comes of those rumors remains to be seen. Until a move is made, Bates will remain on the offensive side of the football.

Steven Gonzalez | Guard/Center | No. 57

Gonzalez possesses a college-ready frame at 6-foot-4, 324-pounds, and will be a key contributor on the line at some point once he irons out the intricacies of the position.


Shareef Miller | Defensive end | No. 48

Miller has already drawn lofty comparisons from Defensive Line Coach Sean Spencer to fellow Philly native and Penn State fan favorite Deion Barnes, but will have to wait his turn before taking reps along Penn State’s veteran line.

Kevin Givens | Defensive end | No. 30

Givens is another extremely versatile athlete — so much so that the coaching staff had a difficult time finding a permanent spot for him. Now in a comfortable role at defensive end, Givens has the chance to utilize his skill set to the best of his ability surrounded by loads of young talent.

Ryan Buchholz |Defensive tackle | No. 97

The coaching staff was back-and-forth on whether or not to move Buchholz inside from defensive end, but it appears he has the potential to fill a major need at defensive tackle next year. Listed at 6-foot-6, 254-pounds, Buchholz has the chance to be the next great force at tackle — which will be important once Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson depart.

Kam Carter | Defensive tackle | No. 55

Carter showcased freaky athleticism in high school, lining up at defensive end and even quarterback. Carter will continue to grow and could make an impact early next year.

Robert Windsor | Defensive tackle | No. 54

Windsor came to Penn State as a prototypical defensive tackle and has turned plenty of heads in practice thus far. He’s another guy that will likely be asked to step into the rotation from day one next fall.

Garrett Taylor | Cornerback | No. 17

Taylor could very well grow into a safety at some point, but for now he’s showing off impressive cover skills at corner. Taylor is another guy who could be a big-time contributor in the secondary during his career.

Ayron Monroe | Safety | No. 23

Monroe could still potentially burn his redshirt this season, as he’s apparently played beyond his years in practice, but the coaching staff would love to have another year to work with him. It’s a thought that’s definitely crossed the mind of James Franklin, but Monroe would definitely benefit from waiting in the wings this season.

Jarvis Miller | Safety | No. 14

Simply put, Miller is a freaky athlete (stop me if this sounds familiar), but he’s also a world-class black belt in Karate.

John Petrishen | Safety | No. 16

Petrishen made waves on offense, defense, and special teams at Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic, but he’s found a home at safety for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State’s crop of freshmen is as talented as it is exciting, boding well for the future of Penn State football. Be sure to keep an eye on the next generation of talent as the 2015 season rolls on.

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected]


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