Takeaways From Penn State Football’s Class Of 2021 Media Availability
Do you feel that? Penn State football is coming.
The Nittany Lions’ 2022 season opener against Purdue is less than 100 days away and summer workouts are starting to heat up in Happy Valley. On Wednesday, media members got the chance to speak with members of the 2021 recruiting class now that their first-year media embargoes are expired.
Here are five things we learned from the afternoon scrum.
Lasch Building Renovations Forge On
Media availability took place outside the Lasch Building on its turf field, which meant the new additions to the football building were the elephant in the weight room. The latest upgrade project has a $48 million budget and includes fancy and abstract things like a hydrotherapy pool and “quarterback lab.”
Naturally, the new renovations were a hot topic of discussion.
Wide receiver Harrison Wallace III said Penn State will have turf inside the new weight room to work out on when the State College weather isn’t cooperating. He also added that facilities were a big part of his recruiting process and he’s looking forward to new equipment and more space.
Offensive lineman Landon Tengwall, who headlined the 2021 recruiting cycle as a four-star prospect, is happy to finally get out of Holuba Hall, which the Nittany Lions were using as a de-facto weight room this spring.
“I”m getting excited. I didn’t even know we were going to have glass so you can look out over the field,” Tengwall said. “It’s going to be really nice…I’m really excited for that to be finished.”
Multi-Sport Athletes Highlight Class
What’s better than being a great athlete in one sport? Two! Or three. Penn State’s 2021 recruiting class was chock-full of players with raw athletic ability, which lead to previous prowess in sports like basketball, baseball, and even rugby.
Harison Wallace started playing football just his junior year of high school after previously being a hooper. Luckily, his athleticism made the transition to wide receiver easy.
“Going up and catching rebounds is similar to catching a football,” Wallace said. “You’ve got to watch where you land and make sure you land correctly.”
Safety Zakee Wheatley is another guy with a basketball background, but he gave the sport up his senior year to focus on football. He also played centerfield in baseball until his sophomore year of high school, which he said helps his ball-hawking ability in the secondary.
Defensive tackle Jordan van den Berg, a native of Johannesburg, South Africa, has quite a non-traditional athletic background. He grew up enjoying sports like rugby, where he played the offense/defense combo “eighthman” position, and cricket.
Van den Berg was introduced to football through “The Blind Side” and a move to Atlanta, where he met his beloved Falcons, but he didn’t start playing until 10th grade. His parents were worried about concussions, although a non-helmeted rugby match was A-ok in their books. Contact sports has always been his thing.
“I like a physical sport,” van den Berg said. “To be able to get your anger and frustrations out on the field. So, it really translated well [to football from Rugby].”
‘LBU’ Legacy To Be Determined Under Diaz
With the departure of Ellis Brooks, Brandon Smith, and Jesse Luketa, there are lots of questions marks in Penn State’s linebacker corps. Why should fans not be worried?
“Because we’re all good,” linebacker Jamari Buddin said.
Time will tell if that will be easier said than done for the Michigan native, who’s been learning the mike linebacker position, but one thing’s for sure and it’s that Penn State’s defense will look a lot different next season. Plenty of fresh faces will be assuming big roles, including new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Buddin called Penn State the best linebacker school in the country, which, of course, had been under the supervision of Brent Pry for the previous eight seasons. All signs so far point to Diaz picking up right where Pry left off (Buddin said there was “no drop off”), but the former Miami head coach has sizeable shoes to fill.
Michigan Ties Bring Close Class Even Closer
With twins Kobe and Kalen King at the helm, Penn State’s 2021 class had strong representation from Michigan — garnering four commitment from the Wolverine state. With a trip to Ann Arbor on the menu for the Nittany Lions this season, it’ll be a homecoming of sorts for some of Penn State’s rising stars.
But, was this element of the recruiting class a coordinated effort?
“It kinda was,” linebacker Kobe King said. “At a point we were asking ourselves ‘what school are you thinking about?’, ‘where do you want to go?’ and Penn State kind of fit for all of us…those guys really build us as a group.
Kalen King described it as bringing a piece of home to college. Buddin, a native of Belleville, Michigan, agreed that it was important for their class to glue together. He said they’ve all grown together and are ready to take a big step in their second years in Happy Valley.
Christian Veilleux: The Third Clifford Brother?
We’ve heard a lot from quarterback Sean Clifford over his six years at Penn State, but Wednesday was the first time talking to his brother, Liam, who’s a wide receiver. But, there might be a third Clifford brother in the mix. And he’s Canadian.
“We hang out all the time. He’s like one of my other brothers,” Clifford said of Christian Veilleux. “He’s awesome. CV and I have gotten closer.”
Later, Veilleux described Sean Clifford as an “older brother” and a “mentor” and said he was super excited that he’s returning for another season.
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About the Author
Nittany Lions old and new have received new jersey numbers ahead of the 2022 season.