Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to say our final farewells to a trio of Lions and to come to grips with life on the gridiron without them. There’s no replacing what they brought to Penn State football. What Mr. Redemption (Mike Gesicki), all-time receptions leader DaeSean Hamilton, and Saeed Blacknall did for the program, no one will forget and now is your chance to say a final goodbye as a new season approaches.
With that out of the way, I’m here to tell you that life does go on and Pass-Happy Penn State has a plethora of options to fill those shoes left behind by last year’s seniors. It all begins and ends with the monster-wideout that is Juwan ‘Megatron Jr.’ Johnson and speed demon DeAndre ‘Don’t Sleep On Me’ Thompkins. As vital as the dearly departed were to last year’s offense, these two had plenty of moments in the sun. Johnson’s combination of size and speed have already proven a nightmare for defenders and all signs point to him taking over the reins as Penn State’s go-to receiver in 2018. Although a tad inconsistent, Thompkins was clutch at times and heading into his senior season, looks to build upon the reputation he made as a deep threat and punt returner.
Also in the mix is redshirt-junior Brandon Polk, another speedster, who slowly worked his way back onto the field after suffering a season-ending knee injury three games into 2017. He could take over the slot position vacated by Hamilton. Chomping at the bit are two redshirt freshmen with a world of potential. They don’t call KJ Hamler ‘The Human Joystick’ for nothing. The Michigan-native is poised to make his debut a lasting impression after turning heads all spring. Mac Hippenhammer is not only blessed with one of the coolest names in college football but caught two TD’s in April’s Blue-White game to announce his arrival to us all. Last but not least, if high school rankings are any indication, the nation’s No. 8 ranked overall player in 2017, Justin Shorter, is on campus and already being looked at as the heir apparent in a long line of record-setting wideouts in Penn State’s lineage.
At tight end, there simply is no replacing the freakish athletic ability that Big Mike G brought to the table. He was in a league of his own in those regards and to date, no one has stood out front and center to fill his shoes. Jon Holland and Nick Bowers have both shown glimpses of being capable in very limited action. Danny Dalton is a name to remember as he got plenty of publicity this spring and off-season, and true freshmen Zack Kuntz and Pat Friermuth come to Happy Valley highly regarded. But, there’s no sugarcoating that the loss of Gesicki casts a huge shadow of doubt over this position. A tight end battle will probably be the most heated in training camp as it all shakes out. We’re definitely not without options, it’s just a matter of finding who fits the position best.
Until the quagmire at tight end plays out, the passing game will rely heavily on the ultra-talented group of wideouts, all itching to leave DB’s trailing in their dust. The X-Factor in all of this just might be what Tommy Stevens brings to the table in the newly created Lion position made just for him as he awaits his turn in the driver’s seat. Of course, you can’t be Pass-Happy without a gunslinger at QB and some good hands coming out of the backfield as well. Long live the Saquon Wheel Route, but that’s for next week as we continue inching along towards kickoff and Appalachian State!