Jake Pinegar’s regained confidence helping lead Penn State on special teams
It's hard to measure Jordan Stout's impact on Penn State in 2021, becoming the team's punter, kicker and kickoff specialist.
Stout was amongst the nation's top punters and was selected in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens.
Special teams were of little concern for the Nittany Lions a year ago, but now James Franklin had a huge void to fill.
Luckily for Franklin, Barney Amor stepped up in camp, winning the punter battle and has played well throughout the campaign.
However, that luck ran out when it came to the two kicking positions.
The blue and white had two options to replace Stout at the place-kicking spot, redshirt senior Jake Pinegar or redshirt freshman Sander Sahaydak.
It was the veteran Pinegar who won the spot for the second time in his career after getting replaced by Stout last season.
Things didn’t start on the right foot for the Ankeny, Iowa, native as he went 3-for-5 on field goals with two missed extra points through the first four games of the season.
Pinegar seems to have bounced back from his early struggles, not missing a kick since the contest against Central Michigan and drilled a career-long 50-yard field goal last week in windy conditions against Indiana.
“It felt really good for me to be able to hit one from 50. I haven't been able to do that yet,” Pinegar said. “I've known I can do it for a long time, so it was just a matter of getting out there and having the opportunity and executing.”
Although Sahaydak lost out on the kicking spot, he and fellow redshirt freshman Gabriel Nwosu rotated on kickoffs.
But the duo struggled mightily, with Franklin blatantly saying they needed to be better on kickoffs in the opening weeks of the season.
Franklin made a switch during the game against Central Michigan, placing Pinegar as the kickoff specialist, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I knew I had the leg strength and the ability. It was just a matter of me getting extra practice and extra work to make sure that it's consistent,” Pinegar said. “That's what I've been trying to do this whole offseason — this whole season — is just trying to be consistent with everything, including kickoffs, and so far, it's going pretty well.”
Things haven’t always come easy for Pinegar, though. He was named the starter as a true freshman in 2018, and despite some struggles, he bounced back in 2019, missing just one field goal.
That’s when things started to snowball for Pinegar as he converted on 9-13 field goals in 2020 and made just 1-2 in 2021 before being replaced by Stout.
Now in 2022, it appears the redshirt senior has his confidence back, and Franklin has complimented him whenever he gets the chance while naming him the special teams player of the week after the contest against the Hoosiers.
“It’s interesting, with Jake, early on when he was focused on field goals only, he was not great at kickoff, and we were trying to get him to do both,” Franklin said Tuesday. “I know he’s got aspirations, like all these guys do, to continue playing, and most of those guys are going to have to do two jobs, whether it’s field goal and kickoff or punt and kickoff.
“You’ve got to try to bring a little bit more value there, and he really embraced it and worked like crazy in the offseason.”
Pinegar has had a unique journey in Happy Valley, but he’s playing at a high level and stepped up when the team needed him most.
The redshirt senior year has a year left of eligibility, but he mentioned he’s focused on this season and getting better each day.
“Earlier on, there were some hiccups, but I’d say, for the most part, it’s gone well,” Pinegar said. “No matter how good you do, there’s things that you need to clean up and things that you can continue to improve upon. But, I’d say so far, I think I’ve done well.”
Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.