Hype is one thing, but as Kalen King pulled down two interceptions during last weekend’s scrimmage and was the topic of conversation during weekly media sessions weeks on end all spring, the freshman corner is doing his best to live up to it.
And so far so good.
“He is physically ready,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “He’s a guy who came in and was already physically developed from a weight standpoint and a strength standpoint. He’s also very mature, him and his twin brother [Kobe]. They’re both very mature. They know how to prepare, they know how to compete, they know how to work. They went to one of the most successful high school programs in the United States, Cass Tech, that got them prepared with the level of competition they played in a really good league in Detroit.
“And on top of that, he’s got ball skills. You want to recruit guys who can play both sides of the ball. He’s got tremendous confidence in his talents, and he’s got ball skills. I know this sounds strange, I know this sounds funny; he’s made some great plays on the ball, but some guys, the ball just likes them. … They get a number of turnovers by making great plays, and they get a number where the ball just tips up and lands in their hands or it was thrown to him off a misread. He’s one of those guys. Part of it is that he’s always around the ball and he’s got a pretty good idea what we’re asking him to do from a scheme perspective. What you guys saw today is not new. We’ve seen it all spring.”
King will have to do more than have a good spring to make an impact this season, but the Nittany Lion appears primed to join a list of former freshmen that have left their mark from Day 1. Here are just a few under James Franklin that came storming out of the gates.
In a post Mike Gesicki world, Freiermuth may not have had the jump-ball athleticism of his predecessor but he certainly calmed any worries that Penn State was going to struggle without Gesicki. Freiermuth pulled down 26 receptions with eight of those coming in the form of touchdowns as a big time red zone threat his first year on campus. Freiermuth’s best season would come in 2019, but he put on a good show in 2018 on a team that needed as many playmakers as it could get.
Hell yea punting. Blake Gillikin was a crucial piece to Penn State’s special teams unit the past few seasons and his freshman campaign helped lead the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten Title. In 2016 Gillikin averaged just shy of 43 yards per punt and didn’t have a single punt blocked. His 18 fair catches was a career high and he boomed 13 punts more than 50 yards. After years of dismal punting, Gillikin was a breath of fresh air for the program.
Parsons will always have a “what if?” attached to his career at Penn State as he was poised to maybe be the best defensive player in America in 2020 before sitting out the season. Either way he showed up and showed out in 2018. Parsons racked up 83 tackles as a freshman and certainly looked like the part to become the player he ended up being by the end of 2019. Parsons’ season in and of itself was very solid – but not wildly historic from a statistical standpoint as a freshman – but it’s really the delivering on the hype that gets this up a level. Parsons’ career at Penn State was a blink, but he started off with a bang.
Barkley cranked out 1000 yards on fewer than 200 carries as a freshman and took the world by storm from there. Barkley probably would have Penn State’s career rushing record if he had gotten more than a single carry in Penn State’s season opening loss to Temple. The very next week Barkley had 115 yards on 12 carries against Buffalo. The rest as they say, is history.
There is an asterisk here since Hamilton sat out the 2013 season with wrist issues, but in 2014 he managed 82 receptions for 899 yards. Hamilton managed 87 total receptions over the course of his junior and senior seasons. Of course by then Penn State had far more options on offense by then and Hamlton was a big part of that equation. His opening salvo was impressive though.
Joey Porter Jr/Parker Washington/Keyvone Lee
Time will tell how each of these careers pan out at Penn State, but all three of these freshmen left their mark in 2020 on a team that needed all the help it could get. Porter Jr will show King the ropes in coverage while Washington and Lee will give him plenty of work tackling in practice.