Della Valle looks to capitalize on new opportunity

Penn State safety Jesse Della Valle tries to bring down Ohio State wide receiver Evan Spencer. (Paul Vernon/AP)

Coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday that Adrian Amos would return to cornerback and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong would continue to play mostly at linebacker. His decision opens up one of the safety positions to two former walk-ons.

With Ryan Keiser not 100 percent healthy, current punt returner Jesse Della Valle won the starting job last weekend against Ohio State, amassing nine tackles in the 63-14 loss.

“I was able to be on the field on a little bit more in the secondary, so that’s something I was excited about, just to be able to run around on the field a bit more and make some plays,” Della Valle said. “But I know personally, I have a lot of improvements to make.” 

It was Della Valle’s first career start in the secondary. Amos had struggled to match his 2012 production — which came at the corner — in his new position, so O’Brien opted to maximize his talent where he’s most comfortable. 

“I think he's a bigger corner. He's athletic. He's a physical corner. He's got good instincts for the ball. He's a good run defender at corner,” O’Brien said. “So, yeah, I just think right now I'm not saying that will be the way it is for the rest of his career. But, I think right now he's better suited to play corner for what we're trying to do.” 

Della Valle reaped Amos’ position change last week, but he said as easily as he won that position in practice, someone else can take it from him. 

“It’s encouraging but at the same time, that’s happening when you’re out there too,” Della Valle said. “It brings out the competition and it brings out the best in everyone I feel like. Practice is something we see as really important, and that’s a good thing for our team to have.”

Nevertheless, he seems more secure as the Nittany Lions’ primary punt returner. He’s currently returned 11 punts for 118 yards, with a long 31-yard long. 

Whether he’s on the field for defense, for special teams, or for both, Della Valle isn’t complaining. 

“I like playing football period,” he said. “Anyway I can get out there, that’s what I came to Penn State to do. Anyway I can do it, I’ll be happy with that.”