Penn State’s Yetur Gross-Matos returned to practice Friday looking every bit the 260-pound first-round draft pick he did last spring. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer wasn’t surprised.
“Like a freak,” Spencer said when asked how Gross-Matos looked during his first campus workout of the summer. “… All expectations are as if he’s been here from Day 1. No change.”
Penn State’s all-Big Ten defensive end evidently didn’t miss a step when the team opened training camp, despite being suspended for the summer. Coach James Franklin said that Gross-Matos and running back Journey Brown were suspended for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, which required both to train away from the team.
Gross-Matos spent the summer working out at home in Virginia, where he also conducted several interviews with national media outlets about his family and his upbringing. The 21-year-old said that the time away helped him mature entering his junior season.
“I had a lot of time at home to reflect, think, work, just [about] being more mature, being a leader,” Gross-Matos said. “… I made a mistake, and I’m learning from the mistake and moving forward."
Gross-Matos is the centerpiece of a defense that could be among the Big Ten’s best in 2019. He led Penn State with eight sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season, joining Bruce Clark, LaVar Arrington and Aaron Maybin on the list of players with 20 TFLs.
Penn State’s coaches have soaring expectations for this defense, which led the nation in sacks per game (3.62) and returned six starters. Gross-Matos’ return is vital to that confidence.
“We’re very pleased with him, and his development and his appreciation for being at Penn State," Franklin said. “… He’s always been a guy that’s got a smile on his face. I think you probably read a bunch of different stories about his background. I think because of that background, he probably has a different sense of appreciation than maybe the rest of us, but we are expecting big things out of him."
Gross-Matos didn’t detail his workouts, though Franklin, Spencer and defensive coordinator Brent Pry all praised how ready the defensive end looked for the first practice.
Spencer said that Gross-Matos jumped into the first drill as though he hadn’t missed any summer workouts. That made Spencer say to himself, “Oh wow, that’s pretty cool.”
"Whatever you expect from Yetur, he's going to give you even more," Spencer said.
Gross-Matos has an important season before him, considering he’s a potential first-round draft pick in 2020. But he steered clear of defining any productivity goals, notably regarding personal totals for sacks or tackles for loss.
In the past, Gross-Matos has said that he wants the defense to eclipse its 47-sack season, which tied the program record. On Friday, he derived a different motivation.
“My motivation was to get back here, where I am now,” Gross-Matos said. “I know how these guys work. I know what they did over the summer, and I hold myself to the same standard.”