For Starters in 2013, Penn State Football Has 23 Leaders
The true test of a leader these days may be his texts.
When Penn State’s football players need some mid-winter work on the passing game – on both sides of the ball – Adrian Amos and Allen Robinson get to work.
Actually, they tell the DBs and WRs to get to work. As in meet me in Holuba Hall, Penn State’s indoor practice facility.
“You can lead by running drills and getting guys to do extra work, texting everyone to come to Holuba,” says Amos, a junior cornerback who has started 13 games for the Lions. “Then do the extras – extra footwork, backpedals, one-on-ones. Allen and I go back and forth to help get the young guys acclimated.”
Defensive secondary veterans Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who own 29 starts between them, also help direct the drills, along with veteran recover Brandon Moseby-Felder (12 starts). They’re joined by, among others, receivers Alex Kenney (1 start) and Trevor Williams (1 start).
Robinson, with 13 starts and a Big Ten Receiver of the Year selection on his resume, is a shining example of leadership in the weight room as well. He’s gained 10 pounds in the dozen weeks since season’s end, seemingly all in his traps, neck, shoulders and upper back – based on some time spent watching a workout last week. A-Rob is thoughtful, focused and an exacting worker. But, like Amos, he isn’t one of the more vocal players on the team. Neither member of Penn State’s “Supa Six” will replace 2012’s Marvelous Michaels – Mauti and Zordich. Nor are they expected to.
Last week’s 5:15 a.m. workout wasn’t nearly as raucous or spirited as one that was open to the media last year, when a bandana’d and bearded Zordich and a wide-eyed Mauti led an electric-charged session that featured a good amount of barking by Bill O’Brien.
This year is different. On the first day of classes in January, on the Monday morning that O’Brien met with the media to say he was staying on Penn State, the Penn State coach officially closed the book on Penn State’s Year of The Senior. The Nittany Lions lost 14 players with a combined 211 starts, and return 23 players who have made 181.
“Every year is different,” O’Brien said that day. “I just met with the team here at 7 a.m., and I said, ‘Look, 2012 has been over for a couple months now…and we've got to create a new identity.’ ”
The new face is, essentially, the 16 starters -- not including the punter and place-kicker – who return for the 2013 season, plus another seven players who’ve started at least once. This year’s Nittany Lions have a wide pool of players who know the O’Brien system and have the potential to be a bit more businesslike, and less vocal, in it achieving their goals.
It will take a village. The composition of the 2013 squad is much different. No cocky quarterback. No king of the-Jordan Hill at DT. No one as Stankin’ smart and tough at center. For Penn State, now that the first-year shock of the sanctions is over, leadership will take on many forms.
That leadership is linebackers Glenn Carson (24 starts, tops among returnees) and Mike Hull (1 start, but oodles of playing time), comprising the heart of the defense with a spirit and competitiveness that, in tandem, is unmatched on the squad, but still trails that of Mauti and Gerald Hodges.
It is guard John Urschel (12 starts) racing to the front when a player from the offense was needed in a square-off drill against the defense last week. Or Urschel – now a team spokesman of sorts -- surrounded by a media swarm on Saturday the likes of which he never saw after a game in 2012.
It is Urschel, Obeng-Agyapong, Willis, DaQuan Jones (11 starts) and Brent Smith visiting veterans Thursday at a VA medical center in Altoona.
It is Garry Gilliam (11 starts), who saw that his tight end position filled with talent, by the likes of Jesse James (6 starts), Matt Lehman (3 starts) and Kyle Carter (2 starts). So he made the move to offensive tackle, where he hopes to add his weight – 300 pounds of it -- to an offensive line that includes Miles Dieffenbach (11 starts), Donovan Smith (9 starts), Adam Gress (3 starts) and Ty Howle (1 start).
It is Bill Belton (5 starts in the first half of the season) and Zach Zwinak (4 starts at the end of the season), who must maturely deal with the vagaries of an O’Brien running attack that will include redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch.
And it is Deion Barnes (8 starts) – a defensive end, as is C.J. Olaniyan (1 start) – who is as likely target as there is for other schools seeking to lure a Penn State player away by the start of August drills. Barnes, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was a FWAA first-team freshman All-America as well. And if he stays at University Park, as should be the case, it will be a huge statement.
Leadership is all that. And more. Even if, says Amos, you don’t shout it from the mountain (Nittany) tops.
“It’s not me to go out in front of the team and talk,” Amos says.
“But you can be a leader,” he explains, “by showing it, by doing all the right things, by being strong in the weight room, by running hard, by showing that you care, by really wanting to win, by being a competitor.”
For Penn State in 2013, that’s a good start.