Ex-Track Star Dan Chisena Shining On Special Teams For Penn State Football
When you take football and track at face value, the two sports have very little in common.
There’s very little physical contact between competitors in most track events, and football is obviously one of the most smash-mouth, in-your-face sports when it comes to the rough stuff. One common attribute that track stars and (some) football players need, however, is speed. Luckily for senior wide receiver Dan Chisena, he has this in spades.
Chisena initially joined Penn State football in 2015 — a season in which he redshirted. He left the team to pursue a collegiate track career in Happy Valley after Penn State’s track & field squad offered him a scholarship. The speedster’s track career went pretty well — including a team Big Ten title, a conference championship in the 4×400 relay, and a leg on the Penn State-record 4×100-meter and 4×400-meter relays in 2017.
The fifth-year senior left Penn State football in the spring of 2016, and he didn’t think he’d return to the team. His original plan was to transfer away from Happy Valley to a “smaller school” for his final season of NCAA eligibility. A torn hamstring last year, however, made Chisena re-think his plans.
“I was walking out that door certain I would never play football for Penn State again,” he said. “When I tore my hamstring, that’s when I really sat down and thought about what I wanted the next 18 months to look like. I just love this place and love Penn State and all I wanted to do growing up, all I ever wanted to do, was to come to Penn State and play [football] here.”
Returning to James Franklin’s program has worked out wonderfully for Chisena. He was put on full scholarship after taking a 59-yard bomb from back-up quarterback Will Levis to the end zone at the 2019 Blue-White game, and he’s played regularly for the Nittany Lions this year.
“That moment is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Words can’t describe it,” Chisena recalled. “It was such a special moment. I was happy to score a touchdown in the game and then when I heard coach Franklin come on to the microphone and say I had been awarded a scholarship, just an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and thankfulness.”
Chisena has been featured sporadically on offense this season. He hauled in a 40-yard deep ball against Maryland and has totaled two grabs for 46 yards this year. The speedy senior has been at his best, however, on special teams this season.
Pitt return man Maurice Ffrench was Chisena’s first victim of the 2019 season. Chisena perfectly timed an executed a beautiful hit on Ffrench as he was hauling in a punt, but the officials flagged him for punt catch interference on the play.
“Obviously it’s fun, and I think my first taste of that I had was during the Pitt game when I got a flag for hitting a guy too soon,” Chisena said. “People are saying ‘oh, nice hit,’ and I was telling them it’s pretty easy when you’re running full speed and the guy is standing still. It’s fun, and it’s an opportunity that I don’t want to take for granted. I don’t have a lot of time left here to play for Penn State. I just want to always be appreciative for every moment.”
Chisena had his best game of the season last weekend. Michigan star Donovan Peoples-Jones was bottled up in the punt return game in no small part thanks to a pair of excellent tackles from Chisena.
Head coach James Franklin named Chisena the Nittany Lions’ special teams player of the week for his effort, and he also had plenty of praise for the speedy wideout’s mentality.
“He’s been fantastic,” Franklin said. “Obviously he can run, but there’s a difference between running down and being able to tackle in open space against who most people would consider their best space player — the punt returner. He’s also a guy that really appreciates and embraces his role on the team and wants to be the best at his role to help the team be successful.”
“Does he want more? Yeah, they all do. But he handles it really the right way.”
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