A New Year Brings New Potential with Penn State Football

Story posted January 1, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Emma Holtz

TAMPA, Fla. -  While Penn State may not have rung in the new year with a victory at the 2022 Outback Bowl, young talent was on display in the Tampa Bay sunshine.

Bowl game opt-outs became a topic of discussion amongst various collegiate programs leading up to college football’s bowl game schedule. Penn State lost six of its own starters to 2022 NFL Draft outlooks.

A defense without safety Jaquan Brisker, defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith provided an opportunity for young roster members to produce.

Sophomore linebacker Curtis Jacobs reached a season-high 10 tackles and a sack. Redshirt junior defensive end Nick Tarburton, who struggled with injuries throughout his college career, accumulated three solo tackles and two career-high tackles for loss against the Razorbacks. Jacobs received praise from various veteran Nittany Lions including defensive end and linebacker Jesse Luketa.

The senior from Ontario mentioned Curtis as an athlete performing at the same level as the high-profile linebackers that Penn State produced in past years.

Luketa’s nine tackles (four solo, five assisted) against the Razorbacks increased his season tackle total to 53.

Remaining humble as a Penn State Football athlete was the theme of Luketa’s message to rostered players waiting to fill needs on defense.

“Try to outdo the other ones that came before you,” Luketa said.

Luketa suited up as a Nittany Lion for the final time as he declared for the 2022 NFL Draft following the Outback Bowl. He amassed 143 tackles and 7 tackles for loss during his tenure with the Blue and White.

Penn State Head Coach James Franklin praised Luketa for his passion and versatility on the field and acknowledged how those skills could translate into an NFL career.

“Whether it’s the NFL or any other industry, the more things that you can do to bring value, the better,” Franklin said.

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Smith Vilbert’s three sacks made history by tying the Outback Bowl sack record. Franklin emphasized the importance of keeping Vilbert on track to grow and develop within the program.

Luketa said that he shared his love of film study with Vilbert to help him identify tendencies and improve his agility.

Without his former Lackawanna College teammate and fellow safety Jaquan Brisker, Brown locked in two interceptions against Arkansas.

He said that it was “unheard of” to start 19 different players on defense and make crucial stops but Penn State managed to hold out and operate well together.

Brown said that he adopted a focused mentality with no room for excuses in the week leading up to the Outback Bowl. Brown acknowledged the level of young talent waiting in the wings of the secondary. Brown said that he utilizes the opportunities to support and uplift his teammates.

“Everybody is looking forward to these moments,” Brown said. “Young guys coming up are looking forward to come out and…playing a role that they didn’t play all season.”

Brown named junior safety Keaton Ellis as his pick to break out in the 2022 season.

“He has waited his turn,” Brown said about the State College native. “He always tells us that when he can get his turn, he is going to go.”

The absence of wide receiver Jahan Dotson opting out for the Draft allowed receivers Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith to share the workload. True freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux took reps late in the second half in place of Sean Clifford, who recently announced his return for the 2022 season.

As Penn State Football begins the transition into the offseason, its players express minimal signs of slowing momentum or taking breaks. Luketa said that Linebacker U has the potential to move forward in its roster rankings.

“It’s in a great place. Guys like Curtis Jacobs, you have Jamari Buddin…Kobe King, Tyler Elsdon…guys who are eager, hungry and truly humble,” Luketa said. “I’m looking forward to what they’re going to be able to contribute to the linebacker U legacy.”

Emma Holtz is a second-year majoring in public relations. To contact her, email exh5337@psu.edu