Former Penn State tight end Adam Breneman takes next step on his football journey

The (Carlisle) Sentinel (TNS)
Adam Breneman

He's been a nationally recruited tight end (starting at Penn State and later at the University of Massachusetts), an NFL draft hopeful, a retiree twice from football due to injuries, a broadcaster and podcast host, and a manager for a political campaign.

Now, Cedar Cliff High School grad Adam Breneman can call himself a Power 5 conference assistant football coach.

The 2013 Cedar Cliff High School grad was recently named the tight ends coach at Arizona State University under the direction of head coach Herm Edwards. He is the son of Brian Breneman, who was a standout tight end at Spring Grove High School.

It's the latest step in a circuitous, "crazy" journey for Breneman.

Injuries kept Adam Breneman from seeing extensive playing time during his Penn State career.

"I know the journey that I've been on the last — what is it, seven years since I left high school in 2013? — it hasn't been anything that I'd imagine it would be," Breneman said. "Literally not even close. If you had told me I was gonna transfer to UMass, and then retire from football, and then start a podcast, and work in politics and then get into coaching, I would've thought you were nuts.

"But it's been my journey, my reality, and I'm pretty proud of it, and how I've navigated it and dealt with it."

Moving up the coaching ladder: Breneman landed a graduate assistant coaching position last year with the Sun Devils thanks to encouragement and a few good words from Penn State head coach James Franklin and Joe Connolly, Breneman's former strength coach at UMass and now ASU's sports performance coach.

He handled recruiting duties and worked with multiple position groups, including fellow tight ends.

Not even a year later, Breneman, 25, is a position coach. In September, 247Sports named him to its yearly 30Under30 list of top young rising coaches in college football, tied with several others for second youngest on the list. 247Sports credited him with four college commitments to the Sun Devils in the fall, including a four-star lineman.

"One of my responsibilities as a football coach is to develop young coaches in the profession," Edwards said in ASU's statement announcing Breneman's hire. "Adam is one of the brightest young coaches in our business. He's very smart and super enthusiastic. He's proven to be a tireless recruiter, which is a relationship-based area."

"We don't want to lose him now," Edwards said to 247Sports.

Proud of his recruiting record: Breneman, a former Top 50 recruit himself when he graduated high school in 2013, said he's particularly proud of his recruiting record and his ability to relate to the players he recruits and coaches. It makes the long hours worth it. As one of the youngest on the coaching staff, he said he still has a good grasp on what high school recruits are looking for.

"I think being closer in age to the kids helps a lot," he said. "I think it gives you more authority to speak on things in the sense of I understand where they are, what they're coming from, what they're thinking, what they want. I understand all that because I was one of them not long ago."

Coaching has helped fill a void since Breneman retired from the game weeks before the 2019 NFL Draft. The two-time All-American said he was too banged up and "couldn't run" anymore.

He took a year off and tried his hand in various media roles. But he said it didn't provide him the same adrenaline rush, despite still being close to the game. He then watched close friends like fellow Penn State TE Mike Gesicki, one of the top young tight ends in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins, make it to the pros.

Football remained important to Breneman, but he said what made the transition away from the game a little easier was his interest in other ventures.

"I always had things I thought I could fall back on," he said.

Scratching the football itch: But eventually he had to scratch the itch, and he said coaching provides a similar competitive feel.

"At the end of the day, you got a very clear indication whether you did your job or not — Did you win, yes or no? Did you sign the recruit, yes or no?" he said. "So that's really the two parameters that you're judged at as a college coach. I think it's competitive and it definitely helps fill that void a little bit."

Breneman said he always had an interest in coaching, and cited Franklin, former PSU coach Bill O'Brien and former UMass head coach and current Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple as influences. So he drove back up to State College and spoke with Franklin for an hour.

The Nittany Lions didn't have an opening, but Franklin recommended Breneman to ASU.

"I decided during that season in 2019 this was the time — if I wanted to do it, I had to do it now," he said. "I'm 24, I have time. This isn't the jump you can make when you're 30 with a family. I thought this was good timing."

Knowing the right people: So much of football, especially coaching, comes down to knowing the right people — which he had in Connolly and Franklin — and timing, Breneman said.

And the same can be said of recruiting, which Breneman has learned to enjoy, along with coaching up players not much younger than him.

"I've just kind of had a knack at it," he said. "It helps being young, it helps being able to relate, but also just being willing to work at it, and you gotta love to do it, you gotta love recruiting. And I enjoy just because you get to develop relationships, you get to know young men. Hopefully, when they come to your program you get to watch them flourish, which is the most important part."

A journey in the early stages: Breneman said he hopes his journey is still in the early stages. He has aspirations of climbing the competitive and grueling coaching ranks to coordinator and perhaps one day head coach. But that's still some years down the road, probably.

"Not many people get this opportunity," Breneman said, especially at this age. "It's one of the things Coach [ Zak] Hill told me, our offensive coordinator, when he hired me, 'This is life-changing for you, and now it's time to work like it is.' And he's right. It was life-changing, and now it's time to really work, and now the pressure's on."