The Sean Clifford-KJ Hamler Connection Goes Way Back
A strong connection between the starting quarterback and top wide receiver is absolutely crucial to a football team’s success on offense. Penn State football doesn’t need to worry about this being an issue, thanks to the strong bond between redshirt sophomores Sean Clifford and KJ Hamler.
Clifford and Hamler both joined James Franklin’s program as part of the team’s recruiting class of 2017. The quarterback made his verbal pledge very early in the 2017 cycle, while Hamler waited until December 2016 to pick the Nittany Lions, only weeks before coming to campus as an early enrollee.
The 16-month time difference between each player’s commitment gave Clifford ample opportunity to try and bring Hamler to Penn State.
“People don’t really know about me and Cliff, but Cliff’s the reason I’m here,” Hamler said. “I appreciate him for bringing me here, and I want him to be my quarterback. He got me to come here through the recruiting process. It’s just like, I wanted Cliff to be my quarterback.”
There really wasn’t much to the former four-star prospect’s pitch to Hamler throughout the recruiting process. As Clifford noted, the Nittany Lions’ 79-7 victory over Idaho was a perfect example of what his pitch was all about. Beyond the final scoreline, his pitch focused on the “grind” of working towards an emphatic result like that and the togetherness they felt throughout that game.
Hamler later discussed how he always wanted to work with Clifford at the various camps they attended throughout the recruiting process. If another quarterback wanted to throw to Hamler, he’d turn him down in favor of Penn State’s current starting quarterback. The wideout had a hunch that he and Clifford would have a strong connection in the future.
“I didn’t want any other quarterback — I wanted Cliff,” Hamler said. “I thought that this could be a connection in the future, and it clicked like that. I just liked how he was aggressive — he takes shots, he takes risks, and sometimes you need that. I’m proud of him and I love him to death.”
Although both players didn’t become full-time starters at the same time — Hamler assumed a key role last year before Clifford was named QB1 prior to the 2019 season — their connection has been fantastic for the Nittany Lions through two games. Hamler’s hauled in seven passes for 177 yards and two scores so far this season. He’s averaged more than 25 yards per catch in no small part thanks to the offense’s renewed tendency to go deep — a style of play that suits the speedy receiver perfectly.
Beyond the stat sheet, Hamler made a big impact on Clifford during Penn State’s season opener against Idaho. The Nittany Lions could only turn two drives that began in prime field position into a pair of field goals early in the first quarter.
The signal-caller admitted that the main reason for this was his nerves at the beginning of his debut as Penn State’s starting quarterback. He wasn’t nervous for the game until the game began and he immersed himself in the Happy Valley atmosphere. With that in mind, there was only one man who’d be able to settle those nerves.
“KJ is like a vet now. He was like, ‘Yo, you need to chill out,'” Clifford said. “When you have a guy like that on your side, it helps you calm down a lot. After that second drive, we got it going as an offense. We were way more efficient, and we put up points, which is all that matters.”
A strong connection between two players is one thing, but it honestly may not mean all that much if both players don’t have the talent to regularly feature in the starting lineup. Clifford has a big arm, an unrelenting work ethic, and the football IQ to make the correct reads when needed.
Meanwhile, Hamler burst onto the scene as one of college football’s most versatile and explosive weapons as a redshirt freshman. He led the Nittany Lions with 42 receptions and 754 yards through the air while tacking on six total touchdowns last season.
“He’s one of the most explosive players in college football,” Clifford said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it — I think he’s one of the best players in the country.”
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