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Penn State Football Quarterbacks are All(ar) Around; Where Will Drew Fit?

There were quarterbacks, quarterbacks everywhere in Happy Valley on Saturday. And not just on the playing field.

Matt McGloin (13-9 as a Penn State starter) was outside Beaver Stadium, at the corner of Curtin and Pollock roads. He was there campaigning for a spot on the Penn State Board of Trustees with Alvin de Levie, an incumbent townie who is running on the ticket with the former PSU QB and current Lackawanna County Commissioner.

Wally Richardson (21-5), the director of the Penn State Football Letterman’s Club, was at the Blue-White Game, of course. It’s been almost three decades since his last start for the Nittany Lions, but thanks to a new regimen, he’s once again near his playing weight. And looks like he could still play.

Inside Lubrano Park, a trio of former Nittany Lion quarterbacks were sharing stories while pitching the local NIL collective known as Happy Valley United:

Sean Clifford (32-14) is entering his second season with the Green Bay Packers as the backup to Jordan Love. Trace McSorley (31-9) has been on the roster and/or practice squad of five NFL teams and is currently a free agent. Christian Hackenberg (21-17), a second round draft pick of the New York Jets in 2016, is an assistant high school football coach with former teammate Bill Belton, and works full-time covering and promoting Penn State football for State Media, a subsidiary of Mercury, an NIL/content company run, in part, by former Penn State and UMass tight end Adam Breneman.

They are reminders of all things that are a Penn State Quarterback, past and present. Great guys all, they were winners in good times and bad, and the quintessential student-athletes.

Hackenberg succeeded McGloin as Bill O’Brien’s and then James Franklin’s starting quarterback. He was backed up by McSorley, who was backed up by Clifford, who was backed up by current PSU QB1 quarterback, Drew Allar (10-3).

In all, the quintet of McGloin-Hack-Trace-Cliff-Allar has started 153 of Penn State’s past 155 games. It’s a string interrupted only by Will Levis (1-1), in a 2019 start vs. Rutgers, when Clifford was injured, and a 2020 start vs. Iowa, when Penn State was in the midst of an 0-5 start.

But college is different than the pros, they’ll all tell you. As a rookie for the Tennessee Titans in 2023 after transferring to Kentucky, Levis — who was not at Beaver Stadium on Saturday — had nine starts (3-6). McGloin had seven NFL starts, McSorley had one. That’s it among the group. Allar hopes for more.

For those preceding Allar, the unmistakable allure of the place where they spent this past weekend is that it’s where they experienced their greatest glory. The fleeting fame. Their eternal place in the annals of Penn State football history. And the current comfort level of home.

ANDY AND ALLAR

So, where does — and will — Allar fit? It’s early, but it seems kinda of late.

That is folly, of sorts. Allar’s Penn State legacy is yet to be determined, three springs into his Penn State football career. (Will there be a fourth?) And yes, with Allar, hope springs eternal. He was a five-star QB coming out of Medina High School in Ohio, and the No. 1-ranked quarterback in the country, according to 247Sports. And, likely, according to the dearly-departed Mike Yurcich.

Allar committed to Penn State on March 8, 2021 — the day of his 17th birthday. At that time, new Penn State offensive coordinator Andy Kotelnicki was just beginning a three-year stint as OC at Kansas. New wide receiver Julian Fleming was just seven receptions into his Ohio State Buckeye career. And Yurich had been the OC at Penn State for all of 59 days.

It all makes Allar look like a relative Penn State lifer. He arrived on the University Park campus as a student and savior just ahead of the start of spring semester classes on Jan. 9, 2022. He’s appeared in 23 Nittany Lion football games, starting 13.

It is the next 13 games that will be, in a large part, where his legacy lands among the aforementioned and esteemed group of Nittany Lion signal-callers.

Of course, Kotelnicki will have a big hand in that. And a big voice, too. New college football rules permit in-game radio signals from the coach on the sidelines or press box (Kotelnicki) to the helmet of his QB (Allar). Penn State tried the headphones for the first time in Beaver Stadium on Saturday.

“It was definitely a learning experience with the first time in the headset,” Allar said after the scrimmage. “In practice, he is behind us. If the headset cuts out and we’re talking, I can still hear him. The headset communication today was really cool. Getting inside Beaver Stadium is the first time we’ve been able to do that this spring. So that was really good to just get a dry run.”

Talk about a coach being in his players’ head. But, with Kotelnicki and Allar, that will truly be the case, not only in games but every single day. Saturday’s scrimmage gave basically zero indication of Kotelnicki’s plans for Allar — or the PSU offense. But, as Allar and Andy ride in 2024, so will Franklin and the rest of the Penn State football program.

After all, Penn State’s offensive line is in flux (goodbye Olu, Hunter and Caedan). And the Nittany Lions wide receiving corps may be cheaper by the dozen. In all, 18 different wide receivers were listed on the scrimmage’s Blue and White rosters.

That figure included the ubiquitous and off-the-field elusive enigma named KeAndre Lambert-Smith, who was listed on the spring game roster — sandwiched between 0 DeLuca, Dominic and 1 Reed, Jaylen — even though KLS had been MIA at practice last week and the BWG on Saturday.

In four seasons at Ohio State, Fleming had 79 catches for 963 yards and 7 touchdowns. In their time at Penn State, all of the other remaining wide receivers have combined for 91 receptions for 1,053 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Of the remaining 17 (the number, anyway, the day before portal opens), though, Fleming is the most interesting. He had just one catch, for 5 yards, in Saturday’s scrimmage. It came early, on a quick slant. He didn’t play very much. He didn’t need to. 

Fleming is a known entity. He looks much older than his wide receiving cohorts. For good reason: He is. In spring drills, he’s been what Franklin likes to call a “Steady Eddie.” Waiting his turn in line, dropping few balls during the small practice windows reporters were permitted to watch. In his one post-practice media appearance, Fleming stuck to the playbook, speaking in platitudes and saying all the right things in small sound bytes. 

But his voice is being heard, where it counts most. In the locker room. By Allar.

Fleming is 1,185 days older than Allar. While at Ohio State, Fleming played on teams that were 40-7, made two CFP playoffs and one national title game. He’s played with a starting quarterback that was the NFL Rookie of the Year (C.J. Stroud), as well as one (Kyle McCord) that transferred to Syracuse, of all places. He’s played with and behind All-American wide receivers. He’s carried the burden of being the No. 1 high school football player in the country. He knows the ins and outs of Allar’s home state.

Fleming brings nuance and maturity — which has been sorely lacking in the PSU WR Room. Allar is paying attention.

“I definitely bounce a lot of things off of him,” Allar said. “Just in general — it can be about anything. He is a really good guy to talk to because obviously he has a different perspective. I think he’s been a great addition to that room — his toughness, his physicalness. And he’s done a really good job of making contested catches for us this spring.” (FYI, @CoryGiger)

“I’m excited to keep building our relationship and seeing the added value that he will bring over the summer,” Allar added. “Things like getting on the same page and like what he thinks we can add into the routine.”

Fleming has even taught the Penn State wide receivers new ways to use the Monarc football machine throwing machine. In fact, not just new ways. Simply using it at all. What a novel idea.

“He’s been putting that to use a lot,” Allar said. “I think that’s helped the receivers a lot, because we definitely haven’t used it as much. He’s showing the receivers how it’s used and how much benefit they can gain from that. I want to throw them all the time, but I also have to limit myself in the amount of throws that I can get in a week. I think it’s really good for them to just walk through it on their own and get extra catches.”

139 DAYS TO WEST VIRGINIA

And where does Beau Pribula (0-0) fit in with the QB Room in 2024? He’s a nice novelty and a nifty and crafty runner. But he lacks the arm strength and in-pocket gravitas to be a consistent viable option to Allar as long as Allar is a Nittany Lion. Option runner and trick-play passer? Yes. Starter, at least for right now? No.

As Allar goes in 2024, so will Penn State, pretty much. The two people who will impact his success the most are Fleming and Kotelnicki — two Old Football Heads who are new to Drew’s life.

They’ve started to mesh. This summer will determine in large amount how the Nittany Lions’ fall goes — especially in the Aug. 31 season-opener at West Virginia and the midseason stretch of road games at USC and Wisconsin and then back-to-back Beaver Stadium dates with Ohio State and Washington.

Allar said there are already plans afoot to make this offseason better than last.

“We’ve already started, especially with the strength staff since they kind of have to organize it around like the summer workouts and things of that nature,” Allar said. “But it doesn’t always mean drilling route, timing, and repetition of physical work.

“What I think is going to be good for us this year and you know what we need to change from the past few years, I’ve talked to Liam [Clifford] and Trey [Wallace] about it a little bit already. We’re gonna have a really good plan of attack this summer. And I think, honestly, it’ll probably be a lot more meeting and film watching together than it will be routes on air.”

A year from now, Fleming will be anticipating the NFL Draft. Will Allar?