‘Damn Good Coach’ Sean Spencer Helping Elevate Gross-Matos And Wild Dogs
Penn State’s defense led the NCAA in sacks last season, but don’t tell that to defensive line coach Sean Spencer. Heading in to his sixth year at Penn State, Spencer has already shifted his focus away from last season’s success to the many ways his players can continue to grow.
“Good is the enemy of great,” Spencer said at practice Wednesday ahead of Blue-White. “They always have to rise themselves to the next expectation. I want to make sure that they study film, and when they look at it say, this is the way Coach Spencer and Coach Pry would evaluate me.”
Spencer is one of the more popular coaches on Penn State’s coaching staff. He’s constantly tweeting out videos of his players, who he calls the “Wild Dogs,” making big plays in practice, bowling over offensive linemen in games, or just having fun together off the field as a position group.
“I try to tap into their lives outside of football. I think it’s important for us to do that as coaches,” Spencer said. “Anytime you have a player that you recruited and the parents entrusted you in their children’s lives, you take a great responsibility in that. I’ve always felt like I’ve had a knack for that.”
With his energetic and high intensity personality, Spencer has been able to connect with his players on a high level during his career at Penn State. He’s also earned the approval of head coach James Franklin.
“He’s a damn good coach who connects with his kids and he’s passionate as heck,” Franklin said. “He’s borderline crazy, but he’s got great energy. He studies his position and is a master within the craft of the defensive line.”
One player Spencer has been able to develop a strong bond with over the past two seasons is rising junior defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos. Gross-Matos earned valuable playing time as a sophomore last season, finishing with eight sacks and twenty tackles for loss.
Spencer said “the sky is the limit” for Gross-Matos’ talent and that his skills are some of the best he’s been around at Penn State. This should come as high praise from someone who’s mentored NFL draft picks Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib, and Anthony Zettel .
Although he broke out last season with flashy physical displays in the backfield and versatility to line up all over the field, Gross-Matos explained how key parts to development have been an improved ability to watch film and a higher football IQ.
Unsurprisingly, both of those improvements can be attributed to his relationship with Spencer.
“[Spencer]’s office is always open,” Gross-Matos said. “I’d go up there and we would just dissect film piece by piece. It probably took me a whole year to learn how to effectively take notes.”
Given Shareef Miller’s and Kevin Givens’ early departures to the NFL, Gross-Matos will be seen as a leader on the defensive line this season. After looking up to Miller and Givens as leaders during the past two seasons, Gross-Matos isn’t feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of filling this role.
Instead, he seems excited to step up for his teammates on the defensive side of the ball.
“[Leading the defensive line] is something that I want to do. I want to be there for my teammates and help them in any way I can,” Gross-Matos said. “It’s not just myself, but people like Shaka Toney and the older guys on the defensive line really do a good job in their leadership roles and bringing the young guys along.”
Spencer has noticed throughout spring ball that Gross-Matos has already stepped into this role by setting the tone for the entire defense.
“Yetur is a quiet leader, he’s not going to say a whole bunch,” Spencer said. “He’s such a go-hard guy on the field, that he leads by example. He doesn’t have to say anything. When I turn on the film and Jayson Oweh sees Yetur running sideline to sideline, and not taking a play off, that’s being a leader in itself.”
With Gross-Matos leading a position group with returning playmakers like Shaka Toney and Robert Windsor and up-and-comers like Nick Tarbuton and Jayson Oweh, the “Wild Dogs” seem ready build on their strong showing in 2018.
And with a “borderline crazy” leader, there’s no reason they can’t make that jump.
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