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Penn State Football: Stevens Waits A Bit Longer, But That Wait Should Be Over Soon

by on April 03, 2019 9:30 PM

Waiting for his check at a pizza place just outside of downtown State College, Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens unfolds from his chair to pick something up.

It wasn't his; in fact it belonged to someone a whole table and a half away from him. Another customer unknowingly dropped something from his back pocket, and it lay on the floor dodging its owner's feet as they bounced anxiously. 

"Excuse me sir, you dropped this," Stevens said, now towering over the table. After years of Trace McSorley's "undersized" frame, Stevens seems surprisingly tall. He stands out, even when he doesn't want to. His blue and white, team-issued coat does little to provide any sort of personal privacy.

"Thank you," the man says, looking Stevens over before turning back around to his table.

It's a remarkable moment really when you stop to think about it. People who almost certainly like Penn State football, looking at the player who is the betting-favorite to be Penn State's next starting quarterback and nobody knew it. All of them 15 feet from a picture of Saquon Barkley, everyone would have known who he was.

Maybe it's the helmet. Football's great downside when it comes to building personalities is that from 100 yards away they just look like bodies. Up close they just look like a set of carbon copies wearing shoulder pads. Unless you really know what individual players look like, remove the number and plenty of fans would have no idea.

Then again, many of those same fans could ID nearly everyone on Penn State's 2016 team, those helmets no more transparent than the rest.

So maybe it's the product of being the guy who has been waiting, and waiting forever.

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And Stevens has done a lot of waiting. Years of it. He has seen action in 20 games since 2015, but Penn State has played 53. He has 568 yards to his name, but by and large his impact has been on the periphery. Touchdowns against Maryland are nice, but they almost certainly were going to happen with or without him. Yards at the otherwise completely made-up Lion position are helpful, but have almost always been non-essential to the weekly game plan. 

"It was obviously not what I pictured myself doing when I signed here," Stevens said of a career of waiting after practice on Wednesday.

"Obviously when people sign they want to play, so that's been a difficult thing for me. As much I am able to do, there was a limit and really it wasn't in my power to control the limit of what I was going to do. So I guess that was a difficult part of it, but not trying to make it about me, and trying to make it team-first and doing whatever I could do for the team was probably the biggest thing I've learned and really helped me grow."

The irony is that Stevens almost didn't have to wait. His quarterback battle with Trace McSorley long ago was always far closer than it may have seemed from the outside. Stevens held his own, and in more than a few respects may have beaten McSorley in the long haul.

But that particular die was cast, and it would be hard to second guess it now.

"It's funny because sometimes when you have quarterbacks who are really mobile like Trace and Tommy were, you don't get to see that aspect of their game in practice," James Franklin said on Wednesday. "You blow a quick whistle, and unless it's live it's hard to really tell those things. The defense always thinks they have sacks, so you're not really sure but Tommy has got that.

"And really that first time around, we grade those things; completion percentage, touchdown to interception ratio, in terms of red zone efficiency and things like that [Stevens] was as good or better in some of those categories as Trace. So it was a tough decision, I think a lot of it came down to Trace's maturity and the little experience that he did have but that was really it."

While it might be fun to dabble in revisionist history and fan fiction, it's difficult to say anything about the last three years would have been vastly different with Stevens instead of McSorley.

It does indirectly give some insight into the current race, though, as Stevens once again waits, recovering from offseason surgery that saw him miss Penn State's bowl trip to Orlando, instead watching the game from the couch with his parents. Stevens holds a strong edge in experience over Sean Clifford, and while Clifford's career stats are almost a meme of success, it's difficult to take those numbers (five completions for 195 yards and two touchdowns) seriously given such a small sample size.

If Franklin's above comments hold true for this race, it would seem to be Stevens' to lose unless he plays awful in fall camp, a prospect that is always possible, but feels unlikely.

So he will wait a little bit more. It won't be a few snaps against Iowa here, a few plays against Michigan there. It’ll be for the whole nine-yards.

"It is tough," Stevens said of not being full contact this spring. "I want to be doing everything but with the exception of the spring game, there are no games in April so it's all being healthy for the season."

If he's Penn State's starting quarterback this season, it's safe to assume everyone will know his face sooner rather than later.

And as he sprinted away from the media at the end of his interview session, perhaps to showcase that budding health, someone remarked that when there is a close play at the plate, the tie always goes to the runner.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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