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Penn State Football: What Stars Do in a Weighty Situation

by on March 05, 2020 5:55 PM

“Hot,” by Young Thug featuring Gunna and Travis Scott, blared over the speakers of the Lasch weight room on Wednesday afternoon.

The bulk — and bulky — of the Penn State football squad were at the east end of the cavernous (and soon to be expanded) room, packed together and exhorting teammate after teammate to max out their squat reps.

It was the Nittany Lions’ 22nd lifting session of the winter offseason strength and conditioning program, and a small cadre of media was on hand to witness the spectacle.

Performance guru Dwight Galt Sr. oversaw the raucous exercise, as dozens of football players stood on benches, and stood cheering five deep, in a roaring and occasionally deafening display of support.

Head coach James Franklin, clad in light grey sweats, had a to-go cup of coffee in one hand and one of his couple of cellphones in his right hand, alternately scanning it for texts and watching his athletes put on one final show before spring break.

Franklin characteristically thoroughly worked the room, shaking hands — coronavirus be damned — with every media member he could, old and young, student and veteran, camera’d and not. Then he took off doing the same with his players. 

A parade of assistant coaches came and went — Banks and Seider and Trautwein and Stubblefield and Smith and Ciarrocca, by my count — entering the room and fist-bumping players at one point or another. 

THREE’S COMPANY 

There were scores of players. But three caught my eye. 

The trio stood out by standing off to the side. But they never just stood still.

Cornerback Tariq Castro-Field would enter the near mosh-pit of teammates exhorting a squatter. Then he’d go off by himself, to do a drill or workout or to jump rope (watch it below). Again and again.

 

 

Quarterback Sean Clifford — looking decidedly bulkier than the end of last season, when a preponderance of hits and an overload of carries caused him to miss six quarters against Ohio State and Rutgers — would sneak off from the group as well. Cliff did sit-ups.

Then he did a shuffle with big bands stretched across his ankles, creating resistance and building strength.

Same with Journey Brown.

The Nittany Lions’ No. 1 running back who ran for 202 yards and two TDs in the Cotton Bowl, was tucked away in the furthest corner of the weight room, glued to a weight rack. He’d sidle over to check on the Squat Olympics but would quickly hustle back to his personal neutral corner — away from the noise — to do his thing. 

Vets: Tariq, Cliff, Journey.

Each will be in his fourth season at Penn State, with TCF in his final year of eligibility. Clifford and Brown both have two seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining, if they choose to take them.

Castro-Fields enters next season as Penn State’s No. 3 returning tackler, behind the ubiquitous Micah Parsons (who spent some hard time chatting up new O-coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca on Wednesday) and Lamont Wade. In career starts among returning players, he’s No. 4 on the team, with 14 — behind Will Fries (33), Michal Menet (25) and Jahan Dotson (17). 

Cliff, named a captain in 2019 before he started a single game, is the passionate leader of the team. His task: Stay healthier and get better as the season gets longer and tougher. March days well-spent will help with that.

And then there’s Brown, the old and level head of the running back room. Reliable, too. He averaged 119 yards and two scores per game over the final November/bowl push of 2019, when Penn State went just 3-2. He took the starting job and ran away with it.

The culminating winter workouts and the wonder of a couple dozen camera- and cell-phone toting media members certainly got their teammates going. But for these Three Guys — all sure to be leaders of the Nittany Lions this season, on and off the field — their vision was still big picture, still 2020. 

Focus not on the media circus, but the task at hand: Getting better every day, each in his own way. Grind comes before hoopla in the dictionary.

It’s a tenuous blend, no doubt. Support the guys. But stay on track in your own workouts. That meant jumping rope, doing sit-ups, lifting in breaks in the action. Far from the maddening crowd. 

That’s elite athletes getting better. Being mature. In stolen moments, with extra reps, doing the little things. The result: Keeping to their own workout programs, each went 1-0 on Wednesday.

WHAT GALT SAYS

Afterwards, Galt — Big Deeg to everyone inside Lasch — gave each of that trio his due.

About Castro-Fields: “He’s kind of starting to ascend a little bit. You kind of kind of see that presence with him.”

About Brown: “Journey is more old-fashioned. He’s just been punching the clock every week, every month for his almost three years here. It’s been much more methodical. He wasn’t a great squatter before; he didn’t have the flexibility or the strength in his legs. I think just his patience, the consistency of him coming in every day and working hard, is really starting to pay the dividends for him.”

And about Clifford, and fellow quarterback Will Levis, who on Wednesday looked more Gronk than Brady: “At this point, I have them exactly where I want them. I think physically, their presence, they do fit that true running back/quarterback model that we really try to produce from that position. They’re very well-prepared.

“They’re going to go to another level because I want to save their shoulders. They’re already so strong. They’re very explosive. They keep their leg strength and really focus on speed and movement…They’re both mid-4.5, low-4.6 (for the 40) guys. It’s great having two guys like that at that position that take the approach and have had the preparation that they’ve had."



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. 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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