Amani Oruwariye might be one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten and a veteran at Penn State. But he never thought of himself as a leader.
For the first time, the senior is taking on that role.
"Even throughout high school, I never really had to take that leadership role," Oruwariye said Wednesday after practice. "We had other guys who handled that, and the past few years we've had good leaders. So the ball is kind of in my park now to do that. So it's new, but I'm embracing it."
And he is certainly qualified to embrace it. In 11 games last season, Oruwariye recorded 28 tackles, 19 of which were solo. On his four interceptions, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten, he averaged 4.3 yards per return.
The Tampa, Fla., native, who earned his degree in telecommunications before the Fiesta Bowl, will play alongside John Reid, who missed last season due to a torn ACL knee ligament. While Reid was on the sidelines, he gave Oruwariye feedback and advice based on the countless hours of film he is known to watch.
While Oruwariye and Reid are hoping for standout years, another defensive player to look out for is senior safety Nick Scott, who is leading spring ball with three interceptions.
On the other hand, there is still some uncertainty on the defensive line. Micah Parsons, a freshman who enrolled this spring, was expected to take over the middle linebacker position until coach James Franklin switched him to defensive end. This spring, Franklin has been rotating players — "too many to list" — in the position.
"It's been good to not have that much of a drop off," Oruwariye said. "It's more just trying to get that chemistry we've had the past couple of years. We've had that chemistry between me and guys like Marcus Allen and Troy Apke. We already knew what to expect. Just trying to get that chemistry, that cohesion through the defense."
The Nittany Lions' defense has needed that chemistry most when facing KJ Hamler, a redshirt freshman wide receiver. Oruwariye said Hamler, 5-foot-9 and 172 pounds, has given the defense the most trouble this spring.
Still, Oruwariye said this team is one of the fastest he's played on.
"We just stay persistent, trust in our coaching, keep watching film and try to get better," Oruwariye said. "We can't get down on ourselves. We know we're capable of doing it. We've got guys who have played a lot of football, and we just have to keep getting reps and getting reps until we get it perfect."