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Young Defensive Ends Step Up In Absence Of Shane Simmons

Penn State’s young defensive ends have exceeded expectations through the team’s first two games of the 2018 season.

Yetur Gross-Matos started in each of the Nittany Lions’ victories over Appalachian State and Pitt to begin the season alongside veteran Shareef Miller. The Nittany Lions needed a player like Gross-Matos to step up, considering how injuries and retirements have decimated the position.

Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz both retired from football prior to the start of this season for medical reasons, and Shane Simmons has been out due to an undisclosed injury picked up in training camp.

James Franklin hasn’t been shy in his praise for the sophomore breakthrough player throughout the early stages of the season, saying that he has the talent to be a difference maker for his team.

Despite his talent, Gross-Matos is still very raw, but the head coach sees that he has the potential to become a force on the defensive line.

“I think Yetur is as talented as any defensive end I’ve been around,” Franklin said. “But he’s still learning. He’s still raw, he’s still thinking too much. I think he’ll get better with every game and every practice. We hope, sooner rather than later, he’ll start to become a dominant defensive end. I think he has the ability to do that.”

Gross-Matos has tallied three tackles in each of the first two games of the year — second-best among all linemen. 

He also beat Pitt’s left tackle with an inside move to give himself a clear path to the backfield, where he and Jan Johnson sandwiched Kenny Pickett for a big sack on 3rd and 8 toward the end of the third quarter. That sack set up a Pitt punt that DeAndrew Thompkins returned 39 yards for a touchdown.

Another defensive end who shined against the Panthers was redshirt sophomore Shaka Toney. He made five tackles, two of which came for a loss, and tallied a sack in the dominant victory for Penn State.

Toney didn’t make a single tackle in the season-opening victory over Appalachian State, so his contributions in the Pitt game were certainly welcomed with open arms.

Expect to see plenty more of both Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney when No. 11 Penn State takes on Kent State this weekend at Beaver Stadium. Kickoff is set for noon Saturday for the Nittany Lions’ third game of the season.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

Mikey is a junior majoring in journalism and Onward State's Assistant Sports Editor. He is from Bedminster, NJ and is extremely obnoxious about all the best things his home state has to offer. He likes to play golf, but he isn't great at it. If you're dying to see more hockey/golf content on your timeline, you can follow Mikey on Twitter @mikey_mandarino. Send all hate mail/death threats to [email protected]

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