Grant Haley uses more than words to lead the Nittany Lions

Grant Haley, Penn State CB
Penn State’s Grant Haley (15) knocks a pass away from Indiana’s Luke Timian (25) earlier this season. (AP Photo/Chris Knight)

Grant Haley describes himself as a leader by example, in contrast to other leaders on defense, like Jason Cabinda, who’s more vocal, and Marcus Allen, who’s a combination of the two, according to Haley.

But the differences in the seniors complement each other.

“People respond to different leaders in different ways,” Haley said. “Some people don’t like the ‘rah-rah’ type of leadership … so I think as a guy who’s lead-by-example, I am able to be somebody who people can watch how I do on and off the field, and kind of reiterate that, and hopefully they can see that there are ways to be successful by not just being loud or a ‘rah-rah’ type of guy as well.”

“Grant has probably said 32 words,” coach James Franklin said at his press conference Tuesday. “He’s more reserved. He’s Mr. Dependable, and you know what you’re getting with Grant every day. You know what you’re getting with Grant every play. He’s very mature, steady, well respected, very thoughtful and very intelligent. Really, all three of those guys are.”

In seven games this season, the senior cornerback has notched 19 total tackles, including two tackles for loss and one sack. In addition, he has two interceptions, which he’s returned for a total of 46 yards.

“Grant doesn’t brag or anything about it. That’s the thing,” Allen said on a conference call Tuesday. “That’s the thing for a lot of people on our team. No one shows off or showboats on what they have. But Grant, especially, is the type of person who’s humble and just ready to work to get better every day, and that’s what he’s been doing.”

Haley emerged in the spotlight against Ohio State last season when he returned Allen’s blocked field goal for a touchdown, essentially turning around Penn State’s entire season. Since that white-out game at Beaver Stadium a year ago, Penn State has gone 16-1, with its sole loss coming against USC in the Rose Bowl.

The matchup against the Buckeyes (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) in Columbus, Ohio Saturday will be the biggest test for Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) so far this season. But Haley seems to be prepared.

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Grant Haley returns a blocked field goal for a touchdown against Ohio State last season. The Nittany Lions, who face the Buckeyes on Saturday, are 16-1 since that game. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP, File)

Franklin said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior has improved with his confidence when the ball is in the air, an area where defensive backs sometimes struggle.

The fourth-year head coach said defensive backs tend to panic early on when the ball is in the air because they aren’t following it as closely as the wide receiver. While being able to track the ball is one of the more difficult skills to learn, Franklin said Haley is maturing into his position.

“I think that’s probably the biggest thing with him,” Franklin said, “is he’s very comfortable now when the ball’s in the air, which allows him to get more pass breakups, allows him to get more interceptions and make plays on the ball, and he is really playing at an elite level right now.”