PSU news by
Penn State's student blog



Countdown To Blue-White: The Return Game

Penn State has no shortage of options in the return game, making it one of the more intriguing position battles of James Franklin’s fourth spring in State College.

John Reid surprised with his efficiency last season at punt returner, handling most of the duties (22 for 166 yards) before the coaches decided to give the starting corner a breather in favor of senior Gregg Garrity. It’s unknown when Reid will be back after suffering a reported knee injury in practice last week, but freshman Lamont Wade and former walk-on Josh McPhearson should provide plenty of competition for the vacant spot.

They were seen fielding punts alongside running back Mark Allen at Wednesday’s practice, while freshman receiver KJ Hamler, who’s working back from a knee injury of his own, looked on. DeAndre Thompkins also has experience returning punts for the Nittany Lions. He exploded for 58 yards on his first career attempt against Buffalo in 2015, but dealt with ball-security issues at times.

DeAndre Thompkins blows past a Maryland defender on Homecoming.

Charles Huff has shown a desire to get young skill position players their first taste of Power Five football in the return game. As a true freshman, Miles Sanders emerged as the primary kick returner last season, showing glimpses of breakaway speed but never quite putting it all together. He and Saquon Barkley traded opportunities in the Rose Bowl, but Barkley will likely be too busy burning defenders on offense next fall.

Huff could end up taking a long look at incoming freshmen Mac Hippenhammer and Journey Brown during camp this summer. Both were late-rising recruits who showed outstanding speed on the high school level. Hippenhammer is a touted shortstop and will also play for Rob Cooper’s Nittany Lions during the offseason, but it’s his effortless talent as a return man that has the football program most excited about his arrival.

Brown was a three-sport athlete for Meadville Area, where he enjoyed a ridiculously productive career despite flying somewhat under the radar, at least at first. Aside from his famous 10-touchdown, 722-yard performance in a 107-90 win over DuBois in 2015, Brown also earned PIAA state gold in the 60-meter dash this past indoor track season with a 6.87 — the 10th best high school time in the nation. His basketball team fell to Archbishop Wood in the Class 5A state final a few weeks ago in Hershey. The 5’11” running back can really soar above the rim.

Miles Sanders turns upfield during the Big Ten Championship.

Junior receiver Brandon Polk, who missed the majority of last season due to injury, could also play a part in the kick return competition this summer once he’s ready to go. Franklin stressed the importance of not just having speed back there, but the intelligence to make split-second decisions and an overall comfort level under duress.

Penn State’s special teams as a whole dramatically improved last season, but it’s been ages since a Nittany Lion returner found the end zone. Chaz Powell capitalized on the season-opening kick against Indiana State in 2011 and Derrick Williams brought back a punt at Wisconsin in October 2008.

The next step in Penn State’s special teams development centers on generating that elusive return game touchdown.

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]


More by Ethan

Nick Scott Evolving Into Seasoned Leader For Penn State

“He’s one of the best athletes on the team, and he and Trace are our best two leaders on the team,” Terry Smith said of safety Nick Scott.

Four-Star Offensive Tackle Anthony Whigan Commits To Penn State

ESPN Ranks Trace McSorley No. 9 Player In College Football


Incoming Penn State Track & Field Athlete Kristian Marche Shot To Death In Philadelphia

The incident surrounding Marche’s death is “under investigation,” according to the Philadelphia police department.

Former Women’s Gymnastics Coach Files Lawsuit Against Penn State Over Handling Of Abuse Allegations

Men’s Soccer Trio, Reading United Win PDL Eastern Conference Title, Fall Short Of National Championship

Penn State Hockey’s Evan Barratt, Aarne Talvitie Participate In World Junior Summer Showcase

Ally McHugh Wins 400 Medley National Championship

Student Life

Penn State Parking Office Runs Into Student Permit Purchase Issues

Students were delayed hours on Tuesday afternoon while trying to purchase on-campus parking permits.

Girirajan Lab Seeks To Bridge The Gap Between Fly And Human Genomes

Join Onward State: Fall 2018 Application

Plans Submitted For New KFC In State College

Developers have submitted preliminary land development plans to build a new KFC restaurant at 1780 S. Atherton St. in State College.

Join Onward State: Fall 2018 Application

Onward State is hiring for the fall semester and we’d love to have you join us.

Incoming Penn State Track & Field Athlete Kristian Marche Shot To Death In Philadelphia

The incident surrounding Marche’s death is “under investigation,” according to the Philadelphia police department.

Be the first to know

  • Top posts and the best Penn State stories

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

Madden NFL 19 Ratings For Nittany Lions

For the second consecutive year, Sean Lee is the highest-rated Nittany Lion in the Madden video game.

Send this to a friend