UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Turned out that opponents aren’t the only ones that Tommy Stevens can keep guessing.
Stevens, Penn State’s triple-threat backup quarterback, did it quite effectively with his coaching staff and teammates – and the Nittany Lions’ fan base – for several months.
But the uncertainty about his future ended Wednesday evening, when Stevens made it known that he will remain at Penn State.
“I talked to some schools,” Stevens said. “Ultimately, I know what I have here. I love the relationships I have here and I love playing football with my best friends.
Stevens, a Telecommunications major, is scheduled to graduate this spring. He has two years of eligibility remaining and, because he will have his degree, would have been eligible to transfer without having to sit out a year.
Given his diverse skills set and the way he has performed when given an opportunity, Stevens wouldn’t have had to search hard for a school willing to make him its No. 1 quarterback.
“I took a look around,” he said. “And found this is still the best place for me.”
Stevens’ decision was predictably well-received by his teammates – “He’s a difference-maker,” linebacker Koa Farmer said – and others associated with the program.
“I’m elated that Tommy is going to stay with us,” coach James Franklin said.
Although Stevens has not participated in spring drills because of an unspecified injury – he wore a walking boot on his right foot and watched Wednesday’s practice from a scooter –Franklin said that hasn’t prevented him from improving his game.
“Mentally, I think he’s really done a good job of being locked in,” he said. “Asking a lot of questions, kind of developing in those areas.”
Having Stevens stay is a major plus for Penn State because he and Trace McSorley, the starter and a redshirt senior, are the only quarterbacks on its roster who have taken a collegiate snap.
Redshirt sophomore Jake Zembiec, redshirt freshman Sean Clifford – who appears to be No. 3 at the position – and incoming freshman Will Levis will be behind those two on the depth chart in 2018.
“Tommy’s not getting the reps that we would like, so it creates an opportunity for Sean to get a bunch of reps in practice, which is great,” Franklin said. “Kind of the next-man-up mentality.”
Perhaps, but the Nittany Lions don’t have another man quite like Stevens.
He and running back Saquon Barkley were the only Penn State players to rush for a touchdown, pass for one and catch a touchdown pass last season.
Stevens’ versatility prompted the coaching staff to invent a position, the “Lion,” for him before the Fiesta Bowl in December. While the particulars of that role weren’t spelled out – and still haven’t been, according to Stevens – being cast in it allowed Stevens to be listed as a 12th offensive starter in what became a 35-28 victory against Washington.
Stevens, an Indianapolis native who initially committed to Indiana before receiving an offer from Penn State, likened the past few months to “a second recruiting process,” adding with a laugh that, “it was worse than the first.”
Eventually, though, he reached the same conclusion that he had when he formalized his enrollment the first time. And for many of the same reasons.
“It’s still an amazing place, an amazing campus and a second-to-none football program,” Stevens said. “And everything else involved.
“I can’t say enough great things about Penn State. I love it here. It was an easy decision to come back.”
Just not a particularly quick one.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.