STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania — Jaylen Reed can laugh about it now. Things were going well for young people’s safety last November when one of two freshmen in Penn States burned a red shirt.
He’s considered one of the bright spots in the Nittany Lions’ defense for years to come, but his heart sank as he emerged from the locker room this Saturday night after Penn State’s win over Maryland. The Penn State bus convoy was heading back to Happy Valley without him.
“I left my AirPods in the dressing room and ran to get them,” Reed said. “I think the buses have forgotten (me). They were walking down the street and I had to run and catch them. … I had to like Yes, really getting started. I’m glad I made it!”
Transitions on the field and from high school to college are numerous. The game speed is faster, the competition is better. The roles vary and for many it is the first time in their lives that they are not the star player or even appearing in games. Much of the development of the 2021 Nittany Lions recruit class took place behind the scenes this past season.
Jamari Buddin sat in the briefing room with the other linebackers trying to figure out what they were doing better than him so he could position himself to take on a bigger role this year. Defensive tackle Jordan van den Berg arrived from Iowa Western Community College last summer, and while slightly older and stronger than his classmates, he was amazed at how much better and more developed his older teammates were.
“I was there like a star player and then you come here and you’re like a normal person,” said van den Berg. “It’s an eye opener that the skills are so different.”
Several members of Penn State’s 2021 signing class can now look back and laugh at the moments that marked their freshman year in college football. Everyone had that one rep where someone older walked in, laid them on their backs, and, as Rodney McGraw put it, “welcomed me warmly to college football.” Many of them shared those moments the athlete in this week.
K. Sander Sahaydak
Our first week here we all kicked together and I watched Jordan (Stout) hit his first ball of the day from about 45 yards and put it on Holuba (Hall) like it was almost over Holuba. I said, “Wow, OK, yeah, I’ll probably go for a red shirt this year.”
So that was definitely my welcoming moment to college. This is what I realized: “Man, everyone is definitely here for a reason. Everyone is good.”
S. Jaylen Reed
I have two situations. There was one in practice where I was checking Parker Washington and he was doing a crazy route and I was like, ‘Oh my god. It’s not high school.” He did a few things, and I saw Parker come across the field and catch with one hand. I say, “Yo.” I didn’t know what was going on. He’s just such a good player.
Then the Ohio State game in The ‘Shoe. This game, this atmosphere, the Red-Out was crazy. We came in, we’re ready and we’re trying to beat them. It didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, just being in the game with my brothers. I looked around. There was a point in the play where I was looking around the stadium and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ I got so nervous and something went through my body.
CB Kalen King
Jahan Dotson. I often competed against him and he gave me a lot of work. There was a certain time in training where he caught a deep ball on me and he got up and yelled something – I won’t repeat it (laughs). He came to me. It was a little humbling. He beat me in that play, but we always tried.
LB Kobe King
There are some good players in our whole running back room. I will say Keyvone Lee, every time I came here, me and Keyvone have always fought or fought each other. He gets the best out of me and I get the best out of him. He’s not a great talker. Things get more hectic when playing angle attacks and red zones or one-on-ones.
S. Zakee Wheatley
Guarding Jahan, Dre (Lambert-Smith), you come out of high school and you think the work you put into this winter is good, but out here you’ve got boys everywhere and everyone’s a dog. You will get them and you will get them sometimes. …
You see what Jahan did to other guys. He’s a great player. Me and he competed but he definitely got his. He’s difficult to guard. It made me better.
QB Christian Veilleux
When you come in, you know it’s like DI-Ball, everybody’s gonna be good. Everyone here is like a four or five star hotel. That guy over there #4 (Kalen King) put me up last spring (laughs). That was the time I was like, “Man, people are fast.” The game is way faster and you notice that during the Spring Ball in your freshman year.
(Photo by Christian Veilleux: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)