Sean Clifford ‘Making The Most’ Of Time Off, Developing Strong Bond With Kirk Ciarrocca

It’s safe to say Sean Clifford has high expectations for himself entering Penn State football’s 2020 season.

After throwing for 2,654 yards, 23 touchdowns, and rushing for another five scores during his first season starting this past fall, the redshirt junior quarterback seems poised for an even more productive campaign in 2020. Despite that, there’s no arguing that Clifford has had plenty of challenges thrown his way during the offseason.

First off, the quarterback must adjust to newly-hired offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. While there’s no arguing that the coach boasts an impressive resume from his time at Minnesota, Clifford and the rest of the offense have hardly gotten a chance to work with Ciarrocca in-person due to the coronavirus pandemic.

kirk ciarrocca mikey mandarino
Mikey Mandarino | Onward State

The quarterback still feels, though, that the Nittany Lions have managed to develop alongside their new coach well considering the circumstances.

“It’s definitely been an interesting dynamic,” Clifford said. “But overall I think we’ve done a good job with the Zoom calls, making sure everyone is staying accountable. Coach Ciarrocca’s done a great job doing that within our room and within the offense.”

Clifford added that he’s already “learned a lot” from Ciarrocca, who is now the third coach to run Penn State’s offense since he arrived on campus. The former Minnesota coach has certainly been able to keep things fresh despite meeting with his players through a computer screen.

“We do a lot of different types of meetings,” Clifford added. “We’ll have strictly film, note-taking. Yesterday we actually played ‘Jeopardy’ as a group, which was a lot of fun. I think the variety of different things that he does keep us on our toes, makes sure we’re really staying on top of the playbook. It’s been great, I think everybody’s taken a lot from it so far, doing their best to make the most of it.”

Along with not yet having a chance to even throw a ball in front of his new coach, Clifford hasn’t practiced in-person with any of his offensive teammates, either. The Nittany Lions’ had spring practice scheduled from March 18 to April 18, but that was cancelled entirely due to the coronavirus.

While he isn’t technically his teammate yet, Clifford’s younger brother, Liam, is a wide receiver who’s committed to Penn State’s class of 2021. The quarterback mentioned that his sibling has been a great resource for him throughout this period.

“I’ve had a little bit of a leg up with my brother being in my family and committed to the same school,” Clifford said. “I think that’s definitely been a plus for me. Being able to work with Liam has been great and definitely beneficial for the both of us.”

Clifford added that the extra time off has allowed him to watch more tape and hone his craft as a quarterback, but also grow mentally as a player and a teammate. He even mentioned that he’s used chess to stimulate a winning attitude entering the 2020 season.

“I’ve been trying to grow as a player through a lot of different vehicles,” Clifford said. “For example, I’ve been working really hard and grinding through chess. It’s one thing that I’ve found a lot of fun doing, [and] I find a lot of connections through football.”

The Nittany Lion went on to explain that he’s been working with chess expert and “elite mindset trainer” Seth Makowksy.

“He really teaches you how to go through your reads and have a good formula to attack each play,” Clifford added.

It won’t be long until Clifford will get a chance to step away from the chess board, though. As a result of the NCAA Division I Council’s vote to allow student-athletes in all sports to take part in voluntary workouts during the month of June, Penn State Athletics announced Thursday night that it will begin its phased return to offseason activities on Monday, June 8. The first wave of returning student-athletes will include 75 football players.

While Penn State’s quarterback has clearly made the most of his time off, it won’t be too long until he, his teammates, and his new offensive coordinator are practicing together — temporarily, at least.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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