UNIVERSITY PARK — Jason Cabinda has progressed in a lot of ways since he got to Penn State in 2014, but his biggest gain might have been a loss.
Cabinda, a linebacker who is preparing for his senior season, has shed 15 or so pounds since cresting at 252 as a sophomore, and said after the Nittany Lions’ practice Wednesday that the difference shows in his play.
“I’m feeling fast,” Cabinda said. “It’s been going well. I really love the way I’ve been playing.”
Although Cabinda said he “didn’t really feel good carrying 250,” coach James Franklin noted that he’s not the only player who emphasized bulking up when he entered college.
“What happens a lot of times with guys in high school, and early in college, is you think you have to get big, big, big, big, big,” Franklin said.
While Cabinda’s weight has changed, his basic style hasn’t. He just might be visible on more of the field than in the past.
“Jason’s a very physical player, whether he’s 250 or whether he’s 235,” Franklin said. “What this does is, it gets him to a weight where he’s still comfortable playing the physical aspect of the game, but it increases his athletic ability.
“Obviously, if you’re not carrying 15 extra pounds, he’s got a chance to be a sideline-to-sideline guy, instead of a tackle-to-tackle guy.”
The key to shedding those extra pounds, Cabinda said, was a simple adjustment in his eating habits.
“Little things,” he said. “Meeting with the nutritionist to get my diet right, drinking more water, staying away from the crappy food.”
Giving up fast food, he said, was the toughest part. A chain that specializes in Chinese cuisine was a particular favorite, but he figures the rewards for eating better far outweigh any negatives.
“You get out of your body what you put into it, so when you’re eating right, eating healthy, you just play better,” Cabinda said. “You feel better. You recover better.”
Not that spring practice has been particularly taxing for him. Cabinda’s workload has been relatively light, as the coaching staff tries to get more reps for players working to establish their credentials.
“Jason Cabinda, we pretty much know who he is,” Franklin said. “That doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have areas where he needs to get better, still needs to work on, but there are other guys where there are more pressing needs, who we need to figure out who they are.”
Cabinda spends some of his time mentoring younger teammates, something he began to do while recovering from an injury that forced him to sit out five games in 2016.
“Being in that role helped me understand the defense a lot more,” he said. “When you’re coaching guys, you’re learning stuff about your position. You’re always learning.”
Cabinda knows his position well enough to have recorded 81 tackles, 36 of them unassisted, in nine games last season.
He commands enough respect that he is one of Penn State’s three captains, and has a pretty good feel for his teammates’ mindset coming off a season in which they won the Big 10 and went to the Rose Bowl.
“Guys are playing super-fast,” he said. “Really confident.
“It’s more of a veteran team; you have a lot of guys who have a lot of experience. You can tell how much guys care about being right and playing well.”
Notes: Franklin offered unsolicited praise for freshman offensive lineman Mike Miranda, calling him “a guy who has done a really nice job for only being on campus a couple of weeks.” … Freshman defensive back Lamont Wade of Clairton was in a group of players fielding punts at the end of Wednesday’s practice.