Penn State's Nassib is Big Ten defensive player of the year

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The Lions' Carl Nassib leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks with 15 1/ 2 and forced fumbles with six, and he compiled the numbers in 10 games.

Defensive end Carl Nassib, who came to Penn State as a walk-on, started his fifth and final year in the program known by few outside Happy Valley, but a dedicated mind-set and a ferocious way of practicing and playing earned him much notice as the nation's leader in sacks.

The Big Ten coaches certainly noticed and voted Nassib, a West Chester resident and Malvern Prep graduate, as the conference's defensive player of the year. The announcement was made Monday night on the Big Ten Network.

"It's incredible to have this honor and I'm really proud to represent Penn State and represent my team," Nassib said in an interview on BTN. "A great honor like this is pretty cool."

The 6-foot-7, 272-pound Nassib did not start a single football game in high school or college until the 2015 season opener against Temple. But getting in the lineup enabled him to show that his commitment at practice and in the weight room had paid off in his on-field performance.

Nassib led the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks with 151/2 and in forced fumbles with six. He tied for second in tackles for loss with 191/2, a figure that led the Big Ten. He compiled those numbers in the first 10 games of the season.

He starts his final two games but was limited to a total of six snaps because of an injury, reported by ESPN to be a hamstring problem, a report Penn State has not confirmed.

"These past two weeks were probably the most frustrating two weeks in a long time," he said. "All I wanted to do was get out and help my team win. I was limited and couldn't do that and that was really rough. But everything happens for a reason, so hopefully I'll get better soon."

Nassib is a finalist for four national awards. The Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award honor the nation's top defensive player. The Lombardi Award is given to the nation's top lineman or linebacker. The Burlsworth Trophy is awarded to the best player who began his career as a walk-on.

Nassib is the sixth player from Penn State to be named Big Ten defensive player of the year, and the first since tackle Devon Still in 2011.

When Nassib came to Penn State as a preferred walk-on in 2011 during Joe Paterno's final season, he was 6-5 and 218 pounds. He spent a lot of time in the weight room knowing "that was the place that was going to get me where I wanted to be," he said.

Then there was practice.

"I love practice," he said. "I love every chance I get to play the sport because you only have a small window to play this game and I love this game. So any time I get to hit somebody I want to go all out."

Nassib was the only Penn State player to be named a first-team all-Big Ten selection on defense. Two of his defensive line mates picked up spots on the second and third teams. Defensive tackle Austin Johnson (St. Augustine Prep) was named second team in media voting and third team by the coaches. Defensive tackle Anthony Zettel was a third-team selection in the voting by coaches and media.

Sophomore safety Marcus Allen, sophomore linebacker Jason Cabinda, senior cornerback Trevor Williams and sophomore cornerback Grant Haley were named honorable mention.

Running back Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 1,007 yards, was edged out for Big Ten freshman of the year by Michigan's Jabrill Peppers.

Rutgers return specialist Janarion Grant earned second-team honors from the media and third team from the coaches. Other Scarlet Knights honored were linebackers Steve Longa (third-team media, honorable mention coaches) and Quentin Gause (honorable mention media and coaches).

Ohio State cornerback Eli Apple (Eastern) received second-team honors from the coaches and honorable mention from the media. Illinois defensive end Jihad Ward (Bok) made honorable mention on both squads.

jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq