Tommy Stevens Discusses Penn State Career, Transfer To Mississippi State On Adam Breneman’s Podcast
Former Penn State football quarterback Tommy Stevens joined Adam Breneman’s podcast for a fascinating, insightful interview about his time as a Nittany Lion.
Stevens, who transferred to Mississippi State in the offseason, spoke candidly about his quarterback competition with Trace McSorley in 2016, not playing at times during the middle stages of his career in Happy Valley, and his eventual decision to transfer away from James Franklin’s program.
The former “Lion” gives a ton of insight into his time in Happy Valley. You can listen to the full interview, which is a bit longer than an hour, here to absorb every bit of information that Stevens shared.
After discussing Stevens’ time as a recruit and roommate of Breneman’s, the former tight end opened up discussions about the 2016 quarterback battle. As Breneman noted, the competition between Stevens and Trace McSorley was way closer than many people expected in no small part thanks to a huge push from Stevens.
However, McSorley ultimately won that battle and took the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback job for the next three seasons. Stevens was stuck behind him on the quarterback depth chart for all of that time, and the fact that he wasn’t assured of being “the guy” in 2019 ultimately led to his transfer away.
“Ultimately, I felt like I did everything I could in that  camp to be the starter,” Stevens said. “I spent a lot of time at Penn State and, in my mind, I wanted to be more, I guess you could say. Don’t get me wrong — I was very thankful for the opportunities I was given [at Penn State] to play in that offense. What it boiled down to is I wanted to play. I wanted to be ‘the guy.'”
Many thought Stevens would earn the right to be “the guy” for Penn State’s offense this season. However, the emergence of redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford ignited a quarterback competition that, in his own words, Stevens “couldn’t afford to lose.” Some interpreted Stevens’ entry into the transfer portal as fear of competition, but both Breneman and Stevens said that assumption is completely off-base.
“I couldn’t afford to lose that competition. I really couldn’t. We get to the spring, and there was no guarantee of anything,” the quarterback said. “I didn’t want to get to the situation where Cliff has the opportunity to be a three-year starter. Maybe it makes more sense for him to be the starter and me to continue at the Lion.
“I wasn’t afraid of competition. Some fans think I left because I was scared to compete, but that just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Entering the transfer portal in itself was a huge risk for Stevens. He wasn’t sure how many teams would express interest in him, and he likened his initial decision to “jumping over a wall and not knowing what was on the other side.”
Although Stevens spent the vast majority of his time at Penn State as McSorley’s backup, he did get the opportunity to shine in a few moments — particularly in two home games against Iowa. In 2016, Stevens announced himself as a fan favorite by rumbling and stumbling 13 yards for a touchdown against the Hawkeyes, but he said he was improvising a little bit on that play.
As you can see, DeAndre Thompkins peeled off towards the sideline on that play. Stevens ran that play in practice expecting to pitch the ball to Thompkins, but that obviously didn’t happen thanks to Iowa’s coverage.
The Hawkeyes returned to Beaver Stadium two seasons later, and Stevens got his chance to truly shine at quarterback after Trace McSorley went down to an injury. Penn State trailed 12-0 at one point and played some generally awful football in the first half of that contest, but Stevens’ tough three-yard score tied the game at 14. Both kickers hit a field goal before the second quarter ended, and Penn State ultimately ended up winning 30-24.
“I just remember thinking ‘this is it, you’ve been waiting forever for this,'” Stevens said. “At that time, it had been three-and-a-half years, probably over 1,000 days [of waiting]. I couldn’t let it slip. You’ve been preparing like you’re the starter forever, and there were times when you thought it wasn’t worth it. I just remember thinking about all of those things before I stepped on the field. I played really well, and at halftime, I was thinking ‘this is my team.'”
Stevens said there was a bit of confusion about who would start the second half of that game at quarterback, and it was ultimately McSorley. The current Mississippi State signal-caller didn’t play as much as he thought he would for the remainder of the season — partially due to a lingering foot injury that he and Penn State’s coaches wanted to be “cautious” with.
Although his Penn State football career came to an abrupt close, Stevens reiterated the fact that he doesn’t have any hard feelings towards the university.
“At the end of the day, I don’t have any bad will to Penn State whatsoever,” he said. “I’m an alumni. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity I was given there, but [transferring] was the best thing that I could do.”
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