Carl Nassib is back on campus after an arduous journey, a new man of the world, or at least several U.S. cities.
All those award presentations and dinners were fun, he said, but now he is ready to “put the Penn State jersey on and kick some (you-know-what).”
One game and one city remain for the Nittany Lions defensive end: the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia on Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Nassib said he is fine after missing nearly all of the past two games with an undisclosed injury. Nassib will close out five years in the program with the final chapter of a season that coach James Franklin called “amazing,” and “one of the better stories in college football in my 21 years of doing this.”
The story, essentially, is that of a tall, skinny player who never started in high school, who walked-on during Joe Paterno's final season and grew into a celebrated 6-foot-7, 275-pound menace to quarterbacks.
Nassib's first start for Penn State came in the 2015 opener against Temple, a forgettable 27-10 loss. With 10 tackles, including a sack, Nassib provided one of the few bright spots.
It was not a fluke. Even with the missed games, he leads the FBS with 15½ sacks, a school record, and six forced fumbles.
The honors and accolades have poured forth. A finalist for several national awards, Nassib won the Hendricks (best defensive end) the Lombardi (best lineman or linebacker), and the Lott IMPACT Trophy (defensive impact player).
He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and is a consensus All-American.
During his tour, Nassib flew a reported 8,000 miles and visited five cities. He singled out Indianapolis and Houston. He saw a sea lion in California. He said he was “honored” to meet former Penn State All-American Courtney Brown. And he dined well, given the portions.
“People eat like squirrels,” Nassib said Friday. “They had the smallest meals. So I destroyed those meals. The food was very good. But people need to start eating bigger, I think.”
Nassib said he was “just a zombie” the first few days. Flying was especially hard.
“I'm not built for public transportation,” he said. “I thought I paralyzed my neck at one point because I was sleeping all crazy.”
Forgive Nassib for confusing commercial air travel with riding a city bus. He's pretty smart. He wants to be a pediatrician after football. On Saturday, he will graduate with a degree in biology.
“It's gonna be awesome,” he said.
Nassib has a quirky, laid-back sense of humor, but he eschewed most interviews during the season because they made him uncomfortable.
He said he has accepted his time in the spotlight, although not literally. He good-naturedly complained about a light shining off a camera. He also kidded a TV reporter for how he held the microphone.
“It's so close to my mouth, dude,” he said. “I wanna lick it or something. Geez. Does it work?”
Nassib seemed to be having fun, except when a touchy subject came up.
“I've had people tell me, ‘Don't lose your head,' ” he said. “And I think it's kind of insulting when people are worried I'm going to change who I am.”
Note: Although he is expected to turn pro after the season, junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg said he has not made a decision. He added he met for a few hours with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, mainly because he was “intrigued” by Moorhead's spread offense. If Hackenberg returns, it would be his third offense in four seasons.