STATE COLLEGE - Dominic Salomone walked onto the Beaver Stadium grass Saturday without knowing how much, if at all, he would play in Penn State's Blue-White Game.
The Northern York High School graduate watched the entire first half go by as running back Akeel Lynch got to show his stuff for the first time in a Nittany Lion uniform. Salomone continued watching deep into the third quarter until the 5:50 mark, when his number got called and he took the field at fullback between quarterback Tyler Ferguson and tailback Deron Thompson.
Thompson, who posted a team-high 100 rushing yards during the spring scrimmage, backed up Lynch's strong effort and showed fans that the running game is sound behind last year's starter Zach Zwinak and the versatile Bill Belton. But Salomone, who is hardly a household name among the blue-and-white faithful, made sure to leave his mark as well.
The redshirt freshman carried 10 times for 45 yards and was the feature back for the entire fourth quarter. He had a potential touchdown pass from Ferguson sail just over his fingers on the last play of the third quarter.
"It was great," Salomone said after the game. "It was nice to get a lot of carries and a lot of reps. They gave me an opportunity to show what I can do and that's what I appreciated the most."
Whether Salomone can parlay Saturday's performance into more reps this fall remains to be seen, but simply being on the field, and playing a feature role at the end of the game, was a big step for a player who took a gamble on going to Penn State in the first place.
Salomone, who was a two-way starter at Northern and Carlisle, passed up offers from other schools - and probably more immediate playing time - for a preferred walk-on spot with the Lions last February. He ran for 645 yards and scored eight total touchdowns for the Polar Bears during his senior season, but his hopes of playing major college football seemed dim before he got a call from Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr. late in the recruiting process.
After a redshirt season in which he put in a lot of work with strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, Saturday's game marked an opportunity for Salomone to show off his improved strength and speed, as well as how far along he's come in Penn State's system.
"(The redshirt year) was definitely useful," Salomone said. "I got a lot stronger and faster working with Coach Fitz and his staff. I definitely improved my mental game with coach (Bill) O'Brien and (running backs coach Charles) London. I got to bond with my teammates a lot before actually having to go out there and play. It helped relieve the stress of playing. I got to kind of soak it all in and learn a lot on the go."
Fullback is a seldom used position in O'Brien's high-octane offense, but Salomone has plenty of reason to be optimistic about his future with the team.
He and senior Pat Zerbe are the only two true fullbacks listed on the Lions' roster, and last year's starting fullback, Michael Zordich, showed that running ability can garner fullbacks plenty of playing time in O'Brien's offense. Even Zwinak, who has a similar downhill running style, gives Salomone hope that he can contribute in the running game.
"It shows that anyone can come in and seize that opportunity," Salomone said. "Zach worked really hard over the summer and he found an opportunity and took the starting job, so it's definitely possible."
And if Salomone is able to get more of that spotlight, he hopes to be a leader for Penn State's walk-on program.
O'Brien has taken to calling his non-scholarship players "run-ons" because they're expected to contribute immediately while the Lions deal with scholarship reductions over the next five seasons.
Though Salomone hopes to one day earn himself a scholarship, he also has no problem with being the poster boy for what will be the foundation of the football program in the coming years.
"When you come as a walk-on, you don't get treated differently than the scholarship guys," Salomone said. "A lot of times I forget I'm a walk-on. We get the same opportunities as everyone else and we're criticized and praised just as much as they are. It's a good thing, and I would really encourage people if they don't get a scholarship at a big school (to walk-on at Penn State).
"I love Penn State and it was a great opportunity for me. I know I made the right choice."