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Sean Clifford’s Tireless Work Ethic Prepares Him For Greatness In Late-Game Cameos

Penn State’s football program stresses the importance of having four core values: a positive attitude, self-sacrifice in all facets of live, competitiveness in everything you do, and a tireless work ethic.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Clifford takes the latter value to heart.

Clifford has made waves with a perfect start to his college football career. He hasn’t thrown an incompletion in two appearances for the Nittany Lions, threw a deep touchdown pass on his first career passing attempt, and set the record for the longest touchdown pass in Penn State history during the team’s 63-10 victory over Kent State.

Clifford got the opportunity to shine late in the Nittany Lions’ victories against Pitt and Kent State as Tommy Stevens sat out with a lingering injury. Head coach James Franklin called Stevens’ injury a “blessing in disguise” because it allowed Clifford to take reps with the second team throughout spring ball and in training camp.

“If Tommy had been taken the reps that he had been normally taking in practice and games, then maybe Sean wouldn’t have been able to get this
opportunity,” Franklin said. “Now, we’ve got three guys that have all played in games and played at a pretty high level. I think in the long run this is a real positive for us.”

The Cincinnati native said that redshirting last season was “humbling,” but he and his redshirted classmates embraced it and worked even harder to see playing time. He praised fellow quarterbacks Trace McSorley, Tommy Stevens, and Billy Fessler for helping him get to know the playbook and understand the offense.

“I learned really quickly from both Trace and Tommy, and also Billy Fessler,” Clifford said. “You’ve got to sit down, take hours of studying it, and watch film, sit down with other guys as well, talk through plays, talk through what they see in different situations.”

Clifford was excited to see the field in two of Penn State’s first three games of the season and gave offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne credit for his play-calling during his cameos.

“I’m just glad I got the opportunity to play,” he said. “When my number was called, I just relied on my guys and everyone did their job. I just keep doing what I need to do, just follow my rules on the field. [Ricky] Rahne has made some really good play calls for me. Overall, it’s been a great experience and I’m excited to get more time.”

Senior Mark Allen shared an offseason story about the redshirt freshman during Tuesday’s press conference. The team was running hill workouts, and Clifford was actually beating Allen — a running back. He called Clifford’s effort “ridiculous” and went on to praise the quarterback’s work ethic.

Clifford celebrates with running back Johnathan Thomas after he scored a 15-yard touchdown late in Penn State’s victory over Kent State.

“He was working extremely hard,” Allen said. “The kid has a great work ethic. He continues to wait for his shot and, when he gets into the game, he takes advantage of it every time.”

Tommy Stevens is expected to return to game action Friday night against Illinois, meaning Clifford has two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart for the first time this season. He may not see the field against the Illini, but he’s going to prepare as if he’s at the top of the depth chart.

“Like I said in the summer, I treat every single day like I’m the starting quarterback at Penn State,” Clifford said. “All the guys in the [quarterback] room do the same. [Stevens’ return] really doesn’t change anything. Reps will be dished out differently, but from a preparation perspective, there’s no change.”

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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