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Next Men Up: The State Of Penn State Football’s Freshman

Every year during camp, James Franklin releases a list of “green-lit” freshman players who will play during the upcoming season and burn their redshirts.

Before this year’s season opener against West Virginia, Franklin said linebacker Tony Rojas, safety King Mack, and cornerbacks Zion Tracy and Elliot Washington II had all been green-lit. All four players have seen the field during both of the Nittany Lion’s opening two matchups.

Along with the four green-lit players, true freshman Jameial Lyons has also appeared in the first two games of the year but hasn’t been green-lighted by Franklin as of yet. Players can now participate in four games before having to give up redshirt status.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the true freshmen who may burn their redshirts and contribute during their first year in Happy Valley.

Tony Rojas, Linebacker

Rojas came to Penn State as a four-star recruit with the Class of 2023. Rojas was also the No. 10 linebacker and No. 3 player in Virginia, per 247Sports.

Throughout camp, Rojas was expected to make an impact on defense during the upcoming season, a sentiment that was confirmed when Franklin green-lit him during the leadup to West Virginia. So far, Rojas has appeared in both games, albeit in a limited capacity.

During the season opener, Rojas assisted on a tackle before adding a solo tackle of his own and totaled two tackles for the night. Rojas was on the field only marginally longer during the victory over Delaware than West Virginia but recorded two solo tackles and a tackle for a loss of three yards.

King Mack, Safety

Mack committed to Penn State in June 2022 as a four-star while, rated as the No. 6 safety in the nation and No. 18 player in Florida, according to 247Sports.

Mack took a few snaps during the season opener against West Virginia but didn’t record any stats. Mack had a much larger role in the secondary against Delaware and garnered two total tackles and some praise from fellow safety Jaylen Reed postgame.

“It goes all the way down to the young guys,” safety Reed said. “Guys like King Mack and Mehki Flowers, they do a good job.”

Zion Tracy, Cornerback

Four-star Tracy chose Penn State over Rutgers, Syracuse, and Buffalo when he committed in September 2022. Tracy was the No. 69 cornerback in the class and the No. 4 recruit from Connecticut, per 247Sports.

Tracy was in action during both games so far, recording two tackles against West Virginia and only one tackle against Delaware. However, Franklin went so deep into the roster on Saturday that even the backups saw limited action.

Elliot Washington II, Cornerback

The other cornerback green-lit by Franklin hails from Venice, Florida. Washington committed to Penn State in July 2022 as a four-star defensive back. Along with four-star status, 247Sports listed Washington as the No. 13 safety and No. 42 prospect from Florida.

Washington recorded three tackles during his first two games in the blue and white, with two coming against Delaware, where he saw significantly more action than he did in his one-tackle performance against West Virginia.

Jameial Lyons, Defensive End

Rounding out the list of true freshmen that have appeared in both of Penn State’s contests thus far is Lyons. Hailing from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Lyons was a four-star prospect when he committed to Penn State in April 2022.

Lyons did play against West Virginia but didn’t record a stat for the short time he was on the field. The edge rusher saw more action against Delaware and recorded a sack for a loss of four yards.

Lyons is the only Penn State freshman not green-lit who appeared in both games so far. Franklin said Lyons’ status could change at a moment’s notice, but he’s been impressed with what he’s seen so far.

“He’s obviously shown in practice and in games that he belongs,” Franklin said. “Now it’s him continuing to learn the package, understand the defense inside and out, so that maybe by game five he’s one of those guys that we say ‘Hey, we’re going to greenlight him.”

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About the Author

CJ Doebler

CJ is a junior double majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. He is from Northumberland, Pa, just east of State College. CJ is an avid Pittsburgh sports fan, but chooses to ignore the Pirates' existence. For the occasional random retweet and/or bad take, follow @CDoebler on Twitter. All complaints can be sent to [email protected].

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