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Penn State Football: Whatever Happened to the Supa Six?

by on March 27, 2014 11:45 PM

Editor’s Note: This is the 15th in a series previewing Penn State football, part of the countdown to the Blue-White Game on April 12 by StateCollege.com and Onward State. Read the previous stories here.

 Gone is Allen Robinson.

The Nittany Lion wide receiver is off to the NFL after three seasons at Penn State. And he took his 177 receptions, 2,474 yards, 17 touchdowns and two first-team Big Ten awards with him.

Not gone, but forgotten are two social media hubs designed by fans to sing the six – now five -- Nittany Lions’ praises:

On Facebook, the last post for “Penn State’s Supa Six” page was at 8:08 a.m., Aug. 13, 2013: “Wishing you men Success with Honor again this year!”

On Twitter, the last 140-character missive from “Thee Supa Six” – known as @TheeSupa6 – came on May 28, 2013. It read: “Follow #PennState Starting Offensive Tackle Donovan Smith @DSmith_76 #Supa6 #PSUFans.”

That was Retweeted one time. By Donovan Smith himself.

The collective buzz about the six Penn State football players, who arrived in the summer of 2011 amid great promise has been deep-sixed. Smith remains, as do Deion Barnes, Bill Belton, Kyle Carter and Adrian Amos. All have made good names for themselves as they enter Year Four at Penn State. Only now, the talk is about each player, not the Penn State six-pack.

THE SIX OLD DAYS

Barnes yearns for the good old Half-Dozen Days, as he shared the other day on Twitter with the 6,387 followers of his @DBarnes_18.

“Just thinking back.. never forgot them guys.. #supasix.”

Only Robinson has left campus. He is the first of the “Supa Six” to leave Penn State, declaring for the NFL Draft in January – despite owning another year of college of eligibility. For Amos and Belton, the 2014 season will be their final one at PSU. Head coach-wise, the run has been akin to a truncated NBA play-off series – 1-2-1. For Carter, Smith and Barnes, it’s two seasons down and two to go. (Assuming none of them follow Robinson’s supa suit and leave school with college eligibility remaining.)

The six were the much-ballyhooed and self-proclaimed tight-knit group of players who entered Penn State as freshmen in August 2011. They worked out together, they roomed together and a couple of times they even fought each other.

Amos and Robinson both started once in 2011, but as a group they burst onto the Penn State scene like supa novas in 2012, when each found his way into the starting lineup. But it wasn’t until the seventh game, against Iowa (when Belton ran for 106 yards and three TDs), that all six earned a start in the same game. And, as it turned out, the only game.

THE ORIGINS

Back in 2012, Barnes recalled the Supa Six’s origins: "In the afternoon (in the offseason), we would do some extra work by ourselves, you know. Try and work on our craft. The way we developed in summer camp, it's crazy. Because we all knew this would happen but we all didn't know it was going to happen this fast.''

Both Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, in his first season back in the college ranks after five seasons in the pros, and quarterback Matt McGloin were bemused and amused by the young players.

McGloin told Josh Moyer of ESPN.com: “I don’t really care what those guys do. As long as they play good Saturday, they can call themselves whatever they want.”

Added O’Brien: “They’ve designated themselves ‘The Supa Six’ – which I don't know about that. But that’s a really good core group of players.”

If starts tell the story, O’Brien proved prophetic in his own understated manner. Amos has 25 career starts, most among any returning Nittany Lion. Robinson had 24. Smith has 20, third behind Miles Dieffenbach (23) among players in the 2014 squad. Barnes has 18, while Belton has nine and Carter six.

So, what happened to the Supa Six? Most likely, the vagaries of playing college football and the resultant diverging fortunes – injuries and lack of playing time for some, stardom for one, fleeting stardom for yet another – pulled the group of college-age guys apart.

The remaining players still have the opportunity – en masse – to be a Fab Five. But for James Franklin to have a winning record in his first season as head coach, they can’t afford to be The Quiet Quintet – in word or deed. When asked at the start of spring drills to identify his team leaders, Franklin named barely a handful, and noted many of the position groups didn’t make a lot of noise.

If Penn State is to be successful in 2014, all five will need to be supa-stars.

SUPA VS. KRYPTONITE

Here’s a quick look at the Supa Six … Minus One:

ADRIAN AMOS, safety, 6-0, 209. SUPA: Steadiest player in the secondary the past two years, with 107 career tackles – a whopping 72 of the solo variety. Four career interceptions. 4.45 40. Hard hitter, team leader, big-time work ethic. Nice job as team spokesman. Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2013. KRYPTONITE: Didn’t seem quite at ease after switching from corner to safety last season. Sophomore season arguably better overall than his junior year. Can he lead not just secondary but the D and, in fact, the entire team?

DEOIN BARNES, defensive end, 6-4, 255. SUPA: A home run rookie season, when he was named 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year – he was among the conference’s best for forced fumbles (three, No. 3), sacks (six, tied for No. 5) and tackles for a loss (10, No. 14). Displayed quickness, drive, want-to, athleticism. KRYPTONITE: His production was noticeably down in 2013, a notion that O’Brien at first disputed, then validated as super-motored Anthony Zettel grabbed two starts in place of Barnes. His total tackles went from 26 to 28, put his play-making stats dropped.

BILL BELTON, running back, 5-10, 204. SUPA: Successfully made the switch to running back from wide receiver, at O’Brien’s behest – a consummate team move (that took Belton awhile to get used to). Tough, fast, solid body. He ran for 803 yards on 157 carries in 11 games in 2013, averaging 5.1 yards per game -- a big step up from his 60 for 263 in 2012. Good hands; he had 15 receptions for a 10.5-yard average last season. KRYPTONITE: Inconsistent from week to week, with fluctuations due to injuries, fumbles and playing time. Had a combined nine rushes for 26 yards in the first and last games of 2013, yet pounded Illinois for 201 yards on 36 carries (first 200-yard game for PSU since 2002) at the mid-point. Didn’t always see eye-to-eye with O’Brien.

KYLE CARTER, tight end, 6-3, 241. SUPA: Monster 2012, making countless All-Freshmen first teams. Caught 36 passes for 453 yards, a 12.6-yard average, with two TDs and flourished in O’Brien’s TE-oriented offense. Smooth, athletic, crisp, good hands. Tremendous upside. KRYPONITE: A severe elbow injury that occurred on a field goal attempt in the 2013 opener plagued Carter the first half of the season. In some ways, this could be a “supa” since he gamely persevered through some big-time pain and limitations. Still, he finished 2013 with literally half the catches and yards (18 for 222 yards, one TD) of 2012. Only once did he have more than two receptions in a game.

DONOVAN SMITH, offensive tackle, 6-5, 335. SUPA: A wonderfully reliable two-year regular, he’s started 19 of the past 20 games despite some injuries. Plays the all-important left OT, and as such must be given credit for helping McGloin and Christian Hackenberg post some impressive passing stats. PSU’s O-line gave up just three sacks in the last five games of 2013. Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2013. Great size. KRYPTONITE: This is more of an unknown: Smith had the luxury of playing with a very experienced group – on-the-field, in the huddle, in the locker room and out on the town – along the offensive line, so pressure in that regard was minimal. His ability to step up this season, along with Dieffenbach, along a depleted O-line, will determine if all that green will be his kryptonite in 2014.

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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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