Those days Penn State’s players ran Beaver Stadium (to, up and down the bleachers and back) were the toughest this summer, especially for those wearing weight vests.
Laboring across the steps — up to 16 times a session, with jellied legs by the end — the Lions focused on the point when this moment will matter.
“In the fourth quarter, when you need that stop or when we need touchdowns, it’s going to pay off,” defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher said. “Because we know what we did to push each other.”
Penn State recently completed its nine-week summer training session, producing what players and strength coach Dwight Galt called significant results. At last week’s Lift for Life event in State College, Galt said that 93 players already had passed their conditioning tests, a big number for mid-July.
And several players said that the roster clearly carries more speed, with most scoring personal-bests in sprint testing and combine-style shuttle drills. In fact, Galt highlighted speed and agility drills at Lift for Life to give fans a look at Penn State’s offseason training.
“The data speaks for itself,” safety Jonathan Sutherland said.
And as they left for a week off before returning to prepare for training camp, players said they want to build the fastest team in Penn State history.
“You’re going to see one of the quickest, fastest Penn State offenses that you’ve seen in a long time,” quarterback Sean Clifford said. “This spring we were very explosive, but we left a lot on the table. Our offense is really hungry to prove that we can be a 400-, 500-, 600-yard offense each and every game.”
Getting better: Penn State’s staff, including head coach James Franklin, Galt and the assistants, have noted the team’s growing speed component the past few seasons. And the players keep testing better. For instance, Galt said that receiver KJ Hamler still runs the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds despite increasing his weight to 178 pounds.
And defensive end Jayson Oweh, who weighs 256 pounds, landed at No. 6 on The Athletic’s 2019 college football Freaks List after running the 40 in 4.33 seconds. Teammate Micah Parsons, a linebacker whom Oweh edged in the 40, ranked seventh.
The competition between the two underscored Penn State’s entire summer.
“Micah is the kind of guy who has had good success every step of the way, and he’s very seldom run into somebody who can keep up with him,” Galt said. “That time that they raced after a workout, and Jayson beat him, was really good. Micah keeps his foot on the gas all the time now. And obviously Micah gets [Oweh] in a lot of things, so Jayson is like, ‘No, no, no, that’s not going to happen.’”
Brent Pry, Penn State’s defensive coordinator, has called the speed increases on his side instrumental in helping him devise new approaches. In particular, with runners at linebacker and end, Pry can install some unique packages to attack offenses.
Trending in right direction: Meanwhile, the offense seeks to remind fans of its potential despite the loss of four starters to the NFL. Without quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders, the Lions’ offense will change. Tight end Pat Freiermuth said that change trended in the right direction this summer.
“Obviously with Trace leaving, and Miles and [Ryan] Bates and [Connor] McGovern, everybody is kind of writing [our offense] off,” Freiermuth said. “I think we’re ready to prove the whole country wrong.”
Following the nine-week training session, Galt said the Lions get a “discretionary week” in which to recover. They will return to focus on training camp prep, doing longer-distance, lower-intensity runs to mimic preseason practice.
When the season begins Aug. 31 against Idaho, Penn State wants to put that speed on display.
“You guys are going to be shocked and surprised at how fast and explosive we’re going to be,” Freiermuth said.