‘The Sky’s The Limit’: Former Penn State Football Player Adam Breneman Emerging In Media World
At 28 years old, Adam Breneman is an up-and-coming content creator, analyst, and entrepreneur. He’s called college football games for ESPN, hosted stars on his “Next Up With Adam Breneman” podcast, and is ready for more.
However, this isn’t where Breneman thought he’d be 10 years ago. As a senior in high school getting ready to play Division I football, he was expected to star on the field, not off it.
Breneman was a four-star tight end, one of the best in the Class of 2013. That year, he was set to join five-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg at Penn State, a program that was embroiled in controversy and NCAA sanctions.
Breneman signed on to play for new head coach Bill O’Brien, who had reached a Super Bowl two seasons prior as the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. O’Brien offered Breneman a chance to become a star at Penn State, so long as the young tight end was willing to put the work in.
Arriving at college was a culture shock for Breneman. He was a star in high school, but in college, he had to compete with a strong tight-end room.
“The reality is everyone tells you how good you are for a good portion of your high school career and just tells you how you can’t do anything wrong,” Breneman said. “And then you get to college, and it’s totally different.”
During his freshman season, Breneman started to fulfill expectations. He didn’t shock the nation, but he made some impact on the field, catching 15 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns while appearing in 11 games.
Hackenberg, also a freshman at that time, saw Breneman’s growth up close. As the pair’s fame around campus grew, Hackenberg said that he and Breneman maneuvered that pressure together.
“He handled himself great,” Hackenberg said. “Going through it together [at the] same age, [with] the same type of experiences was really good… It was good having him there.”
Then, Breneman had a turn for the worse. A knee injury kept him off the field for most of the next two seasons. After three years of college football, Breneman retired from the sport.
As time passed, Breneman’s knee began to heal. Walking and moving around became easier…and so did football.
After helping run a campaign for the Pennsylvania State Senate, Breneman surprised many when he came out of retirement. His knee was feeling good, and he had connections at the University of Massachusetts, enrolling as a Minuteman in 2016.
“When I left Penn State and thought I was done playing the first time, I definitely had a sour taste in my mouth,” he said. “Going to UMass and being able to do what I did on that stage… It just allows me to feel better about how the whole thing played out.”
Breneman finished his college career after two seasons at UMass, recording 12 touchdown catches and over 1,500 receiving yards. He started preparing for the NFL Draft, but once again, knee pain was his kryptonite. For the second and final time in his career, Breneman retired from football.
While his career came to an early end, Breneman got rid of that sour taste in his mouth. Instead, he feels that his early departure from the game opened up different doors.
“At that point, it wasn’t really a choice,” he said. “I couldn’t run a 40-yard dash. I couldn’t. It just was bad. But… I’ve always said football is something I do. It’s not who I am, and I knew I had to keep that in mind, and I always had things I wanted to do other than just play football.”
After his playing career ended, Breneman got a call from his old strength coach at UMass asking if he was interested in a coaching job. Less than a week later, he was in Tempe working as Arizona State’s tight end coach.
Breneman spent two seasons with the Sun Devils. He said that he took positive experiences from the job and would even coach again one day.
However, his time at Arizona State didn’t end as Breneman hoped. In 2022, Breneman and several colleagues left the program under the shadow of an NCAA investigation into recruiting violations. The investigation is still ongoing, and Breneman was unable to offer a comment on it.
With Arizona State in the rearview mirror, Breneman moved into the media field. It was a move that he’d been considering for some time but never followed through on. However, with athlete-driven podcasts taking off, Breneman felt the time was ripe for a transition.
“[Pat] McAfee was getting his deal with FanDuel…and you saw all these different guys, different than the traditional media path of going to school and studying media. You saw a lot of guys who were former players and current players taking off,” he said.
At 26 years old, Breneman felt that he already had an impressive understanding of the college football world. He’d already been a top high school recruit, played football at two different programs, prepared for the NFL Draft, and coached in college football.
With his resume in mind, Breneman decided to enter a career in content creation.
“I had this background, this experience, this name recognition, and I’ve had all these ups and downs that if I go all in on this thing, I think I could build a brand really quickly to be one of the faces of college football,” he said.
True to his word, Breneman went all in. He started posting on TikTok, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Breneman was even a guest on Onward State’s podcast, Podward State. He engaged in any network that could boost his brand.
Breneman said that he followed the “Gary Vee” model of social media engagement, where he posted as frequently as 20 times each day to gain some traction. He also chose Generation Z as his target audience, as he felt that there wasn’t a single face of college football for the younger generation.
In early 2022, he started uploading his first videos to TikTok that didn’t involve his job at Arizona State and quickly started posting multiple times in a single day. In March 2022, he uploaded his first video to his YouTube page: an interview with former Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett that got over 12,000 views on the page.
“That’s what started it,” he said. “And it just took off from there, and videos were starting to go viral, and I was doing more stuff, and opportunities came.”
Just under a year after he started posting consistently, Breneman got in touch with Mark Lepselter, an agent with Maxx Sports and Entertainment Group, the same group that represents the likes of Vince Carter, Robert Griffin III, and Danny Green. Since the pair first met, Lepselter felt that Breneman had something to offer.
“Every guy that’s played, they’ll have a level of acumen, but some guys have a different gear,” Lepselter said. “And, I certainly noticed that about Adam early on. He was extremely buttoned up in how he was approaching the broadcasting side, how he was approaching this next phase of his life.”
As Breneman continued to pour his efforts into his social media followings, opportunities began to arise. He started interviewing athletes like Jared Goff and Pat Freiermuth and garnered more attention online.
Breneman’s rule was to keep the podcast to a conversation. If athletes said something they didn’t want public, Breneman could just cut it out of the video later. What was more important was having a conversation as if the cameras and the microphones weren’t present.
Hackenberg saw this style up close. Breneman interviewed his former teammate in March 2023, a segment that has made rounds in various Penn State and college football fan spaces.
“I thought he did a great job driving it, and kept it as organic and natural as possible,” Hackenberg said.
Part of Breneman’s skill set, Hackenberg said, is getting his guests to open up in ways that they usually don’t. It’s Breneman’s way of providing something different to his audience.
“He does a good job of getting that side of folks that people don’t,” Hackenberg said. “They tend to see something, and it’s not always the whole pie, and I think he does a really good job of keeping it natural and you walk away from it with a different perspective.”
Breneman feels that the podcast has taken a step forward in recent months. His social media following has improved, and athletes are starting to notice.
His recent podcasts have branched off from his usual college football routine, as he reaches out to college basketball programs like Villanova and Kentucky and spends time with football players already in the NFL.
“I think guys are enjoying it. Now, we’re getting to the point where people are asking to come on, which has been really cool,” he said.
The podcast isn’t all Breneman has been working on. He’s spent time as a commentator, writes a weekly college football newsletter, and is the vice president of Mercury, a company that Breneman describes as “Barstool Sports for college sports.”
Despite all that he’s involved in, Breneman is only looking for more in the future. Lepselter is continuing to find more opportunities as Breneman tries to expand his brand. Breneman’s future is what he makes of it, Lepselter said. And, he expects Breneman to take advantage of the opportunities that he has.
“I expect him to be someone that has a burgeoning career in the sports broadcasting world,” Lepselter said. “The endeavors that we pursue now all have an eye on the future.”
The media side of college football may not be what Breneman does for the rest of his career, but it’s what he’s happy doing now. And in the next few years, he’s confident that his name will be a household name for Gen Z’s college football fans.
“I’ve never been more optimistic for the future,” Breneman said. “I think if I keep executing the way that I am now… I truly believe the sky’s the limit.”
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For the second year in a row, the Land Grant Trophy is headed back to State College.
Tickets for the event will go on sale 10 a.m. Friday, December 1.
Were the Ford Field end zones Penn State fans?