A Young Corps For Linebacker U Paves Way For An Inspiring Future
Football is a game of adversity; what can you do when you’re at your lowest point?
That point is when you see a team’s true colors. The loss of Nyeem Wartman-White to a knee injury and the lack of experience in the linebacker corps initially brought a challenge to the Nittany Lion defense this season.
On September 5, Penn State ventured into Philadelphia to take on a Temple team that was ready to turn some heads. The improbable 27-10 loss to the Owls in the season opener not only had an effect on the team as a whole, it affected the regime of Linebacker U. The defense’s response to its unexpected loss was one that affected the 2015 season and the future of the Penn State defense.
Wartman-White’s collapse in the second quarter of that season opener delivered an undesired problem for Bob Shoop and his defense. Its leader had fallen in battle, and now it had to find a way to fill the void. Even though the unit still had a dominant force in Brandon Bell, losing Wartman-White was an unexpected blow to the team’s leadership and it needed help.
Enter Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder.
Cabinda, a sophomore linebacker who had already assumed a starting role to begin the year, had an upsurge in expectations from the fans and his team to perform in Wartman-White’s year-long absence. In his expanded role, Cabinda got very involved. Cabinda’s sophomore campaign consists of 2.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble, and a team-leading 92 tackles.
In his freshman season, Cabinda saw the field in only eight games and tallied 17 tackles. The improvement by the New Jersey native in one season was immensely needed by the Nittany Lions to help keep the team afloat.
“You’re always constantly hit with adversity and it’s always how you’re going to respond to those situations,” Cabinda said. “I think this year, that’s really what it was about: guys stepping up, and ‘the next man up.’ This guy goes down with an injury and the next man steps up and plays well. We did that all year.”
One of those players to step into an expanded role along with Cabinda was redshirt freshman linebacker Troy Reeder. Before Wartman-White’s injury against Temple, Reeder was just like most of the freshmen on the team, on the sidelines. The season changed for him when Wartman-White went down — his team needed a dark horse to contribute in a big way. That’s exactly what Reeder did.
Reeder’s first true season with the blue and white showed the many skills he has in his possession. Reeder has the ability to recognize the offense’s scheme as it starts, allowing him to get that extra burst at the line of scrimmage that has helped him be so effective. Reeder concluded the regular season with 67 tackles and one interception.
The redshirt freshman from Wilmington, DE, has made a name for himself in the replacement of Wartman-White. In Wartman-White’s absence, Reeder’s production and development was enough to give hope that he will be a key component of the defense for the future. His stellar speed, quick recognition, and tremendous power improved with every game as the season went on; Reeder believes the expanded role helped him develop.
“To be able to go out in front of 107,000 people makes the game quieter and quieter each time,” Reeder said. “With every game, the pace slows down and you react faster, so overall the experience helps all young players and it was a big difference for me.”
Reeder also embodies the qualities of the traditional Penn State linebacker. Reeder has the prototypical “Linebacker U” physique, standing at 6-foot-1 and 265 pounds. The 2015 season is one that Reeder feels he took full advantage of, and he hopes people believe he made the most of it.
“I think things worked out well for me and I hope people feel like I took advantage of my opportunity,” Reeder said. “Football is a game of opportunity, it’s all about waiting for your opportunity to come to you and being able to seize it.”
The increased roles for Cabinda and Reeder allowed them to gain more experience on the field along with more experience as leaders. Every game this young duo saw the field more and more, gained more experience and knowledge, and made the most of their opportunities. The two, along with Bell, will use everything they’ve learned this season against the run-heavy Georgia offense on January 2 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The presence of Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder not only resonated for this season, but it brings excitement for the kind of potential that resides at the linebacker position. The presence of veteran Brandon Bell, newfound studs Cabinda and Reeder, and the return of Nyeem Wartman-White could lead to an exciting 2016 season for Linebacker U.