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Penn State’s Tyler Elsdon Commands Heightened Role In Place Of Previous Linebacker Staples

For almost the entirety of its storied history, Penn State’s middle linebackers have proven to be one of the most sought-after and sanctified positions within the confines of the Lasch Building.  

Typically, the back end of Nittany Lions’ feared front seven possesses several groomed up-and-comers prepped to immediately replace esteemed linebackers who commanded the defense for prolonged stints. However, following the departures of Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa, James Franklin has yet to find a standalone centerpiece to man the linebacking corps in arguably its most important spot.

Now, with both Brooks and Luketa ready to pursue opportunities at the next level in the NFL, first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is tasked with evaluating a staunch competition for the next middle linebacker. Without a clear-cut favorite set to be instantly plugged in the middle between Curtis Jacobs and Jonathan Sutherland, redshirt sophomore Tyler Elsdon has emerged as a vicarious and vocal leader in his third campaign with the program.

Although the Pennsylvania product has put on 13 pounds while also trimming his body fat percentage in half in less than three offseasons with the team, his progression into becoming a viable option on defense hasn’t always been as concrete.

Prior to ending up at Penn State, Elsdon proved to be a dominant force for North Schuylkill High School — a small, remote district located about 100 miles east of State College. With about 150 students per graduating class, Elsdon’s previous ways of torching the third-smallest athletic classification in Pennsylvania paled in comparison to the prototypical forces he’d ultimately square off against across the Big Ten.

“I’m from a small high school in PA, and I think that was probably the biggest factor of my transition when I got here,” Elsdon said. “I didn’t see a lot of competition. I played a lot of tough teams, just maybe not the level of competition you’d see [at Penn State]. So, through those first two years, there was a lot of learning.”

Through two seasons of output, Elsdon has appeared in 13 contests, but over that span, the sophomore produced only 12 total tackles in limited action. Despite his minimal production on the gridiron so far, the former three-star recruit’s growth under the Nittany Lions blue-chip heavy linebacker core has paid dividends, with the rewards beginning to come into fruition this spring.

“I feel like myself again on the football field, which is huge,” Elsdon said. “I get to be confident, and I feel more confident. It’s been a process, [but] the coaches have been very awesome throughout the whole process [by] showing me love and showing me a lot of support.”

Aside from the Nittany Lions’ comprehensive defensive staff, Elsdon has received an added level of encouragement from Brooks and Luketa, even throughout their preparation ahead of the upcoming NFL Draft. Over the course of their careers, both former four stars combined for 381 tackles, 26.5 hits for a loss, and six sacks as two of the premier defenders in the Big Ten.

With the combination of experience and production under the belts of the two former Nittany Lions, Elsdon feels as though it’s his duty to pick the minds of both linebackers who were vital in orchestrating Brent Pry’s successful unit a season ago. By following the framework set by Brooks specifically, the Pennsylvania native believes that his transition into a more prominent role will be more seamless than incohesive with the rest of the defensive.

“Any questions I’ve had, [Brooks and Luketa] would sit down with me, talk things out, explain them on a player-to-player level, and just kind of help me develop,” Elsdon said. “They’re always pushing me past my limits, and even today, if I have questions, I can still reach out to them. Sometimes, they reach out to me just to see how I’m doing, and they are extremely good guys. They’re Penn State guys, and they just want what’s best for the team.”

Other than Elsdon, the competition in the middle is far from a one-horse race. Despite entering the linebacking ranks a year later, redshirt freshman Kobe King has also been praised by the Penn State coaching staff for his work ethic and maturity during a short time on campus.

While competition within the walls of the same position room often has the bounds to become detrimental to the unit’s chemistry, both Elsdon and King have embraced the challenge with a team-first mentality at the forefront. By making each other better day after day, Elsdon thinks that the duo can become a feared one-two punch, with both having a key role regardless of who starts each matchup on the field or the sideline.

“Kobe is a great guy,” Elsdon said. “The competition itself is awesome. It keeps me on my toes, it keeps him on his toes, and it drives us to get better. I think we’re very selfless in it. No matter who’s on the field, even though we’re competing, we’re really pushing each other to be the best versions of ourselves.”

Entering his third season, Elsdon stands as just one of two scholarship linebackers who grew up in Pennsylvania, with the other being Charlie Katshir. With the motivation of winning the middle linebacking job on his mind daily, Elsdon also prides himself on extending the tradition of Linebacker U with an equal level of responsibility.

In total, the Nittany Lions claim 67 linebackers who’ve played in the NFL in some capacity, giving the program an overwhelming edge over Miami (51), Alabama (41), and Georgia (37), which are all programs that claim to hold a stake in the Linebacker U argument. For Elsdon, remembering the myriad of former legends who once donned the blue and white at his position makes him want to uphold the solidified linebacking tradition to an additional degree.

“There’s a standard,” Elsdon said. “The coaches always say, ‘The standard is the standard, there’s no deviation.’ When I think about LBU, being from Pennsylvania, playing at Penn State, there’s a weight on your shoulders almost… Just going back on YouTube, watching Paul Posluszny, Sean Lee, Lavar [Arrington], guys like that, it just kind of [makes me] really embrace the position I’m in. It really drives me.”

Although the middle linebacker battle will likely remain unresolved up until the Nittany Lions’ season opener in early September against Purdue, Elsdon is able to find solace in realizing that he’s currently fulfilling a childhood dream of lacing up the black shoes and basic blues for Franklin’s program.

Whether he’s trotting onto the field for the opening defensive series in West Lafayette or beginning the opening slate as a role contributor off the bench, Elsdon knows his Pennsylvania roots, including all of Schuylkill County, will be in his corner for the totality of his journey in Happy Valley.

“You can never really escape Penn State football from where I’m from. [It’s] a super small town,” Elsdon said. “When I got the offer, it was almost like they were about to throw a parade for me. That’s what it felt like. My neighbors had jerseys hanging out of their windows and everything, so it was super important to me, but I think it was super important for my community. Whenever I go to practice, I think about them, and it drives me to be the best version of myself.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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