Spotlight on: DaeSean Hamilton
You get the feeling that Hamilton has been around Happy Valley for a long time, and he has. The fifth-year senior WR and team leader has been solid the last two seasons after leading the Big Ten as a freshman with 82 receptions, but he had a period last year when he was a forgotten man in the Penn State offense. He had two games without a catch, including the Rose Bowl, and four more with one catch in each. But he came up clutch in the Big Ten championship game with eight receptions for 118 yards. By all accounts, Hamilton is having a terrific 2017 training camp and is ready to help fill the gap left by the departure of Chris Godwin, last year’s top receiver, to the NFL. He needs 19 receptions to set a program record for career catches.
Best in the Big Ten?
Mike Gesicki last year finally reached the lofty expectations that were expected for him when he enrolled at Penn State, setting program records at the tight-end position with 48 catches for 679 yards. His 6-foot-6, 257-pound frame and leaping ability contributed a number of highlight-reel moments. The senior has received much preseason recognition as an all-America candidate and perhaps the best at his position in the Big Ten. After considering taking a shot at the NFL draft, Gesicki is back and, with another year of work on his blocking and receiving, could be a high-round pick, if not a first-rounder.
Waiting in the wings: Juwan Johnson
At 6-4 and 227 pounds, Johnson (Glassboro), a redshirt sophomore wide receiver, has the size and speed to make an impact this season after a terrific spring capped by a seven-catch, 81-yard performance in the Blue-White Game. He caught only two balls last season, but Johnson was a valuable contributor on special teams and blocked a punt against Rutgers. He will be a candidate for extensive playing time.
Finding backup (WR)
Redshirt junior DeAndre Thompkins, the fastest receiver during winter workouts with a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, made seven starts last year and averaged more than 16 yards per catch. Senior Saeed Blacknall made a name for himself as a deep threat with a 23.1-yard average last season when six of his 15 receptions were for 20 or more yards, including touchdown grabs of 40 and 70 yards against Wisconsin. Redshirt sophomore Irv Charles (Paul VI) caught two passes last year, but one was an 80-yard touchdown in the season-turning overtime win over Minnesota. Brandon Polk was injured most of last season and received a medical redshirt.
Finding backup (TE)
Gesicki missed very few snaps when the Lions employed a tight end last season, but fifth-year senior Tom Pancoast took those infrequent snaps and was a rock on special teams. Sophomore Nick Bowers looked to be a promising newcomer to last year’s team before suffering an unspecified injury and sitting out the entire season. Sophomore Jonathan Holland played primarily on special teams last season, and caught a team-high eight balls in last spring’s Blue-White Game.