Transfers look to play critical role for Penn State football in 2022
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In the wake of going 11-11 the past two seasons, James Franklin entered the 2022 offseason knowing his program needed a boost to its roster.
In the ever-changing world of college football, the transfer portal has become a route many programs go to upgrade their rosters.
With the NCAA granting players another year of eligibility due to the pandemic, the portal has seen an uptick in players' transferring and the quality of players entering the portal.
In 2021, Penn State added six transfers to its roster, including Arnold Ebiketie, Derrick Tangelo and Johnny Dixon.
Those transfers brought a much-needed spark to the program, and for the second straight campaign, the Nittany Lions went back to the transfer portal to address three of their biggest needs.
Wide receiver Jahan Dotson compiled an excellent senior season recording 91 catches for 1,182 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Although the blue and white had Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith in the fold, it sought to find an elite replacement for Dotson.
On Dec. 7, former Western Kentucky receiver Mitchell Tinsley put his name in the transfer portal after two seasons with the team.
In his senior year with the Hilltoppers, Tinsley transformed into one of the nation's top pass catchers, hauling in 87 passes for 1,402 yards while finding the endzone 14 times.
Three weeks after entering the portal, the Lee’s Summit, Missouri, native found a new home in Happy Valley.
Tinsley mentioned it was a chaotic holiday season, but having the opportunity to play with Washington and Lambert-Smith stood out to him.
“It was hectic when I first made the decision to transfer, but I felt this was the place for me based on the pieces that were coming back,” Tinsley said. “We have a lot of good pieces within the receiver room as far as Parker, KeAndre and Malick Meiga.”
Penn State fans caught a glimpse of Tinsley during the annual blue-white game when he scored the lone touchdown, and many saw flashes of Dotson.
Although both Dotson and Tinsley don the number five, the latter is focused on being himself and not trying to be like Dotson.
“Jahan had just left, so there was a gap there with him leaving, so I was like, “why not me?” Tinsley said. “I’m not looking to fill a role. I’m looking to be Mitch Tinsley and make plays when I get the opportunity in this offense.”
Throughout the summer months, Franklin has raved about Tinsley, noting his production from a season ago, and the staff knows what they're getting from him day in and day out.
Tinsley has all the tools of an elite receiver with great ball skills, toughness and route running and his connection with quarterback Sean Clifford is crucial for the team's success.
Clifford and Tinsley have bonded immensely since Tinsley came to campus, and the duo is living together this season.
“It's more than work. We're hanging out a bunch, and now he'll be able to come over and ask me questions and talk about this and that and the other,” Clifford said. “Mitch is a great player, and I think he'll be on full display on Saturdays.”
Another area of weakness for the Nittany Lions was their offensive line, with the team failing to have a 100-yard rusher and losing two starters in left tackle Rasheed Walker and center/guard Mike Miranda.
After spending four years at Cornell, Hunter Nourzad decided to use his extra year of eligibility and head to Happy Valley.
In 2021 the Big Red pounded the rock and averaged 121 yards rushing per game while Nourzad anchored an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks in school history with nine.
The Marietta, Georgia, native was one of the most coveted offensive line talents in the portal, with Penn State, Illinois, Iowa, Auburn and Virginia Tech pursuing him the most.
Although the two-time All-Ivy League lineman's role on the offensive line has yet to be determined, he’s impressed many teammates in camp, along with fellow lineman Olu Fashanu.
“He's an awesome guy and a physical specimen,” Fashanu said. “He knows what he's doing, and I'm really excited to see what he can do this year.”
With the commitments of Tinsley and Nourzad secured, the blue and white switched its focus to the defense.
The Nittany Lions had a glaring need at defensive end after Ebiketie and Jesse Luketa declared for the NFL Draft.
Luckily for Franklin and his staff, one of their top targets in the 2021 class in Chop Robinson entered the portal after one season with Maryland.
Robinson took two visits to Penn State while in high school, and his familiarity with the program made it easier to transfer.
“Coming out of high school, I was highly recruited from Penn State. I knew a lot of the coaches and players, and there are a lot of players at Penn State from Maryland,” Robinson said. “Once I hopped in the portal, it wasn’t a hard decision because I knew everything here, so I felt it was the best thing for me.”
Over the past few campaigns, the blue and white have excelled in recruiting in Maryland, with 11 players on the roster hailing from the state.
One fellow Maryland native who is super excited was linebacker Curtis Jacobs, who developed a strong relationship with Robinson in high school.
“He’s a guy I've been going to camp with for a while. He's one year under me, so I've been going to camp with him for two years,” Jacobs said. “Being able to get him in and have him work, and I feel like he'll be a big part of us.”
With the additions of Tinsley, Nourzad and Robinson, Penn State addressed three of its biggest needs and expects the trio to play a critical role in 2022.
Alex Rocco is a rising junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org