Malik McClain Emerging As Surprise Star For Penn State Football
Malik McClain wasn’t supposed to be this good.
Or, at least, Penn State’s transfer portal pickup wasn’t expected to be this good. When names were tossed around as potential third options for the Nittany Lions at wide receiver, a position that the team still has yet to iron out, McClain was barely mentioned, if his name was dropped at all. But while the former Florida State wideout didn’t start against West Virginia Saturday, he made a case to be considered one of the team’s best pass-catching prospects.
With potential starter Omari Evans listed as questionable before the game, wide receivers coach Marques Hagans gave Liam Clifford the nod against the Mountaineers for the third-year’s first collegiate start. Clifford put together a good performance, recording two receptions for 25 yards, 19 of which came after the catch. McClain, though, quickly upstaged him.
McClain, who was recruited by Penn State out of high school but instead committed to the Seminoles, recorded four catches for 58 yards and was one of two Nittany Lions to catch a touchdown pass. Nineteen of Clifford’s yards may have come after the catch, but McClain ran for an extra 36 yards after his initial grab. Whatever the other wide receivers did Saturday, McClain either did it with improved statistics, or he simply did it better.
“He’s just really reliable,” quarterback Drew Allar said of McClain. “I think we can all depend on him. He wants us to be able to depend on him, and I think he did a great job with that throughout camp and obviously the first game of the season.”
McClain’s been trying to find a school where he can shine. Through his first two years at Florida State, McClain made three starts and caught a total of 33 passes for 396 yards and five touchdowns. In one game at Penn State, the transfer recorded a more than quarter of his receiving yards from all of 2022 in one game.
McClain hasn’t had it easy since transferring. Both James Franklin and Allar said that McClain has worked for his current standing with the team. While the 2023 season may be McClain’s first season in Happy Valley, Allar said that he’s acted like a team veteran since arriving.
“He has outstanding work ethic, one of the hardest workers on the team by far,” Allar said. “In the spring, obviously, it was an adjustment coming from Florida State where he’s transferred from. And he did a really good job in the spring, even though everything was pretty new to him. And I think he did a great job this offseason.”
“He did an outstanding job of just enhancing everything and getting improving in all areas of his game. And then when he finally got to fall camp, I mean, he really just took that next step forward,” Allar continued. “He knew what he was doing. He was bringing those [younger] guys along with him.”
Franklin has been one of McClain’s biggest fans since the West Virginia game. The 10th-year head coach specifically took the time to talk about McClain during a midweek press conference, calling him a “wonderful addition” to the program.
On his end, McClain has bought into Penn State. When Franklin comments on his smile, McClain just says that having a positive attitude is part of the program’s culture. When Franklin talks about McClain performing well in his classes, McClain says that being “locked in” is part of his approach to his new life in State College.
McClain hasn’t secured a starting spot with the wide receiver corps just yet. At media availability Wednesday, Franklin said that the competition has boiled down to McClain and Clifford, though the rest of the pack isn’t necessarily out of the contest.
McClain seems ready to be part of what he describes as a “blue-collar” culture at Penn State, which he says differs from his time at Florida State. For a player who didn’t want to take any time off between his decision to leave Florida State to arriving at his new school, he seems to fit right in.
From being one of Penn State’s top receivers to its Special Teams Player of the Week for the same game, McClain seems to be pushing all the right buttons.
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