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Penn State Football: For Anthony Alosi, Hope (and New Coaches) Spring Eternal

by on March 20, 2014 11:45 PM

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series previewing Penn State football, part of Onward State and StateCollege.com’s countdown of insight and analysis about head coach James Franklin and his team heading into the Blue-White Game on April 12. Read the previous stories here.

We know that every year on March 19, tiny swallows instinctively return to the little California town of San Juan Capistrano.

At about that same time, across the country the much larger Anthony Alosi returns to the expansive practice fields of the Nittany Lions.

A swallow weighs three-quarters of an ounce. Alosi is a bit larger, at about a sixth of a ton.

Still, Alosi’s trip is ever as dutiful – and rare – as the birds’. In fact, it is a journey very few current Penn State players have made with Alosi’s frequency. Only a handful of players in the Penn State locker room these days -- such as Miles Dieffenbach, Mike Hull, C.J. Olaniyan and Zach Zwinak -- know PSU spring football like Anthony Alosi.

(Unless you count equipment manager Spider Caldwell and facilities savant Kirk Diehl, that is.)

This is the offensive lineman’s fourth set of spring practices at Penn State. Here’s why: Because Alosi enrolled early in Penn State in January 2011 – the only player of that class to do so – he was immediately eligible to practice. So, on Capistrano Day 2011, just two months after he started classes as a criminology major, Alosi started spring drills at 286 pounds. His head coach? Joe Paterno.

This past Monday, now three years and 24 additional pounds later, the 6-foot-4 Alosi was back on the practice field, when Penn State opened spring drills in Holuba Hall. And James Franklin, at literally half Paterno’s age in ’11, is now his head coach.

In between, Alosi had two spring drills with Bill O’Brien. And, overall, he’s also had a couple hundred teammates and four position coaches – Bill Kenney, Dick Anderson, Mac McWhorter and, now, Herb Hand. These days, Kenney is at Western Michigan, Anderson and McWhorter are retired, and Alosi keeps plugging.

At Penn State, it hasn’t been the easiest of times for Alosi on the field. He did, however, come with great promise. As a senior in 2009 at Cherokee High School in Marlton, N.J., he was a first-team All-South Jersey. From there, he went to The Hun School in Princeton, where he was a two-way lineman and captain, leading the prep school to the state championship in the fall of 2010.

A few months later, Alosi enrolled in Penn State. He’s played both guard and tackle, redshirting in 2011 and appearing sparingly the past two seasons. However, since he stepped on campus, 13 different offensive linemen have had at least one start. He’s had none.

SPRING FORWARD, FALL BACK

Unfortunately for Alosi, it is a trend that might continue. On Monday, the very first day of spring drills, when Hand dealt out what looked to be the first O-line unit – left to right: Smith, Dowrey, Mangiro, Dieffenbach, Nelson – Alosi wasn’t on it. Instead, he was lined up on the dummy defense.

His chance may come yet. Linemen take longer to develop, and Alosi is eligible to play both this season and next. If there is anywhere the Nittany Lions -- who played with about 65 scholarship players in 2013 and will have a maximum of 75 in 2014 -- are thin, it’s along the offensive line. Of the aforementioned five who started Monday’s drills along the top line, Dieffenbach has made 22 starts at Penn State. And the other four have made zero. Combined. The same as Alosi.

For Franklin, it is cause for alarm. To douse the fire, he’s shifted Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia – defensive linemen who didn’t play a lick as freshmen in 2013 – to the offensive line.

“We basically look at the overall roster positions of strength, positions of weakness, based on numbers, based on talent,” Franklin said on Monday, before his first official practice as Penn State’s head coach. “A great example is (that) we’ve moved Dowrey and Gaia to offensive line. A big part of that is when I looked at the defensive line, we had a four-deep of scholarship players on the defensive line basically, four deep at defensive end, about three-and-a-half deep at defensive tackles, nose guard and D-tackle.

“The offensive line; we did not have a two-deep of scholarship players. Not even a two-deep. So, I just felt like we needed to make some moves.”

TOUGH TO SWALLOW

Zwinak (233 pounds) may have run for 1,000 and 989 yards the past two seasons, and Christian Hackenberg (234 pounds; so who’s the bruising tailback, anyway?) may have passed for almost 3,000 yards a freshman. But they’ll literally go nowhere fast without some protection. As a former all-conference college quarterback at East Stroudsburg, Franklin knows that better than anyone.

“From a media and from a fan perspective, every time I meet somebody all they want to talk about is Christian Hackenberg,” Franklin said. “And don't get me wrong; I'm excited about him as well. But it takes a lot more than a quarterback to be successful on offense. So we want to make sure that the game of football is not played from the ground up from a fundamental standpoint. But the game of football is also played up front, on the offensive line and on the defensive line…”

And that’s why, especially in 2014, hope really does spring eternal for the Anthony Alosi’s of the Nittany Lion world.

Thinking otherwise -- especially as Penn State continues to play handicapped by the NCAA -- is for the birds. Or, at the very least, tough to swallow.

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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