Big Things Lie Ahead For Defensive End Garrett Sickels
What Penn State’s 2013 recruiting class lacked in numbers (only 16 signees due to the scholarship restrictions handed down by the NCAA) was more than made up for in top-end leadership at a pivotal time in program history. And while the bunch’s bell-cow was undoubtedly Christian Hackenberg — who could play his last collegiate game on Jan. 2 against Georgia in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl — a classmate from Red Bank, N.J., has two years left in Happy Valley to prove he’s the next great Nittany Lion defensive end.
Redshirt junior-to-be Garrett Sickels spent his first season on campus learning the ropes, as most defensive linemen do, on the practice field. After a standout redshirt campaign running with the scout team, Sickels didn’t waver when Bill O’Brien left for the Houston Texans. Instead, the 6-foot-4, 258-pounder got down to work with his new position coach, high-energy trench guru Sean Spencer.
The countless hours spent watching film and honing his technique alongside veterans Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan paid off, as No. 90 had the chance to get his feet wet in the Big Ten without being rushed into a starting role. When the 2014 chapter closed in Yankee Stadium, Sickels had posted a respectable 11 tackles (seven solo), including three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks on the season, while seeing significant time on special teams.
However, following the graduation of Olaniyan and early departure of Barnes for the NFL, the door swung open for Sickels to make a splash this fall — and that he did. Despite being overshadowed at times by the tremendous play of his linemates Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and Anthony Zettel, Sickels showcased more than enough upside to warrant excitement for the future of the “Wild Dogs” next season. Nassib and Zettel will wrap up their Penn State careers in Jacksonville, and Johnson could also be playing his last game in the blue and white given his soaring draft stock and recent induction into the alumni ranks following fall commencement.
Those are six enormous shoes to fill, but thankfully Sickels brings plenty of experience to the table and will consume a large part of the guidance void for his younger teammates. The Garden State native finished 11th on the defense with 31 tackles (12 solo), while adding some disruption to his game. Sickels also bumped other key stats in a positive direction with 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble, two recoveries, and a pass broken up and defended.
Although he didn’t make the trip to East Lansing for the Nittany Lions’ regular-season finale due to a minor injury, Sickels was able to rest up and return his focus to the task at hand: improving his handwork and explosiveness each day during the all-important bowl practices. Even if Johnson delivers a late Christmas present by returning for one more year, Spencer will rely heavily on Sickels to set the tone in the meeting room and on the field.
Up-and-comers like rising redshirt sophomore Torrence Brown and redshirt freshmen-to-be Shareef Miller and Kevin Givens will look to Sickels for a helping hand, much like the one he received when he was a mere Wild Pup. Though two (perhaps three) starting spots along the line are up for grabs this spring and summer, one thing is certain: Garrett Sickels has only scratched the surface of his potential.