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Star tight end Pat Freiermuth refutes report, says he'll play for Penn State this fall

DEREK LEVARSE
The (Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth.

In the middle of a live interview on the Big Ten Network, James Franklin made sure to find time to fit in an important cameo.

A few hours after the Big Ten announced its plans to return to play in late October, the Penn State coach let his top player on offense give the news that he will still be suiting up for the Nittany Lions this fall.

Junior tight end Pat Freiermuth joined Franklin in his office for the on-camera interview and announced that he would indeed play this fall, refuting reports earlier this month that he would opt out to focus on the NFL draft.

“I never opted out. I don’t know where those reports came from,” Freiermuth said. “But I stayed consistent and trusted coach Franklin that he could get the job done. I’m just excited to play football again for Penn State and I can’t wait for the season.”

It’s an important boost for a Penn State team still hoping to compete for a Big Ten title and make a case to be included in whatever the College Football Playoff might look like at the end of the season.

As it is, the Lions have had just one player publicly announce an early departure, as All-America linebacker Micah Parsons made the decision to sit out even before the Big Ten shut things down on Aug. 11.

Freiermuth said he had conversations about doing the same with his family and Franklin — “I wanted him to be 100% on board with his decision,” Franklin said.

But the record-setting tight end has always preferred to stay in college for another season, as both he and his parents have said in interviews he was having fun playing for the Lions and wasn’t ready to head to the NFL just yet. Freiermuth’s mother, Dianne, has also been one of the most vocal Penn State parents in calling for the Big Ten to play this fall.

Within an hour after Penn State’s regular season finale last November, Freiermuth announced his intentions to return for 2020. That initial decision still was on his mind during the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“At the end of the day I came back for a reason,” Freiermuth said. “To play for Penn State, to compete with my brothers on the team, and evidently we have the opportunity to do that. So I’m going to continue to play football for Penn State.”

Freiermuth has a chance to join Parsons as a first-round draft pick next spring. And one mock draft from a major outlet even had a third potential Penn State player in the top 30 picks — defensive end Jayson Oweh.

Dubbed one of the country’s most impressive athletes because of his speed and agility at 260-plus pounds, Oweh doesn’t yet have a fraction of the on-field results of Parsons and Freiermuth. But his raw talent would be highly intriguing to NFL teams, and Oweh spent time training with Parsons during this period of shutdown for the Big Ten.

That was enough to raise the question of whether Oweh might opt out as well despite just one career start in college to his name.

While it didn’t have the same official ring as Freiermuth’s statement, Oweh seemed to indicate that he too will play for Penn State this fall, writing on Twitter, “Go Time! #WeAre,” on Wednesday.