WOGENRICH: Meet Sean Clifford, Penn State's 2019 starting quarterback
Earlier this summer, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford asserted that he “is the most confident and the most ready I’ve been in my life to play this position.” Clifford’s chance to prove that arrives Aug. 31, when he makes his first start.
Penn State publicly named Clifford as its starting quarterback Friday, eight days before the opener against Idaho. After Tommy Stevens’ spring transfer, Clifford was the most obvious choice to replace Trace McSorley but still had to win the job over redshirt freshman Will Levis.
Clifford, a redshirt sophomore, turned himself into an immediate offensive cornerstone this spring, taking the lead at a team meeting after Stevens announced his decision to transfer. Unprompted, Clifford told his teammates, “I won’t let you down” and set about becoming the alpha of Penn State’s offense.
That also meant shielding himself from expectations placed on starting quarterbacks.
“You can get caught up in it,” Clifford said. “There’s a lot going on, and I’m here to win games and improve this team however I can. I try to shield myself as much as possible. It’s tough, but I do my best to focus on what I need to focus on.”
Clifford had significant success in limited action last year, which began with a touchdown pass on his first career attempt against Pitt. At one point he was 5 for 5 for 195 yards and two touchdowns, yielding a quarterback rating of 559.60.
But Clifford played primarily in blowouts. His meatiest appearance came in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky after an injury sidelined McSorley for a series. Clifford attempted two passes and was sacked before McSorley returned.
Matt Millen, lead analyst for the Big Ten Network, noticed Clifford during spring drills, when he took most of the first-team reps while Stevens remained sidelined following offseason surgery. Millen was impressed but noted Clifford’s understandable rawness, having thrown just seven passes last season. But Clifford carried one trait well.
“Here’s what changes everything: confidence,” Millen said. “He has it and it could be that he just needs a chance and then he’ll figure his way. He has a big arm and he moves better than you think, so it’s not like he’s void of movement. His arm’s better than McSorley’s, his feet aren’t. That’s not a bad thing. They’re both good at what they do.”
Penn State opens the season Aug. 31 against Idaho at Beaver Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
Five things to know about Sean Clifford
1. His 2018 touchdown pass to Daniel George against Kent State covered 95 yards and set two school records: longest pass play and longest play from scrimmage.
2. A four-star prospect at Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High, Clifford was the first player to commit to Penn State’s 2017 recruiting class. He announced his decision after his sophomore year in July 2015.
3. Clifford led St. Xavier to the 2016 Division I Ohio championship with a double-overtime win in the state-title game.
4. He sustained a broken hand as a freshman after punching a weight bench during a workout. Franklin called that a “great teaching moment,” adding that it proved Clifford is “very, very fiery competitor.”
5. He serves as president of Penn State’s chapter of Uplifting Athletes, which raised $56,018 this year via Lift For Life and other fundraising activities.