With the Blue-White Game in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead to the 2010 season. In today’s edition of Morelli OnLion, we’ll take a closer look at the tight end position. We’ll also take a closer look at another member of the Class of 2010.
With tight ends Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, Jr. gone to the NFL, Penn State junior Andrew Szczerba is expected to step up and fill the void left by their departures.
Fans didn’t get a chance to see Szczerba in the annual Blue-White Game because of a nagging back injury. Head coach Joe Paterno decided to hold Szczerba out of the annual scrimmage for fear of him suffering further injury.
“It was just a sore back and coach Paterno thought it would be a good idea just for me to rest it today,” Szczerba said.
Szczerba wasn’t the only big-name player to sit and watch during the Blue’s 17-3 victory. Running back Evan Royster was kept out of action to avoid potential injury.
“I feel like I’m just as important as any other player. I don’t think that I’m so important that I could sit out and someone else couldn’t. I just think because I was nicked up that he thought it would be best for me to sit out,” Szczerba said.
It’s unfortunate that Szczerba missed the Blue-White Game, because he traditionally has a pretty big day in the annual contest. During the 2008 spring game, Szczerba had a team-high five catches for 65 yards. During the 2009 contest, he had three catches for 39 yards.
But solid spring games have never translated to success in the fall for Szczerba. Last season, he was stuck behind Quarless and Shuler on the depth chart. He caught just one pass for 6 yards, that coming against Temple.
Sitting and waiting his turn was not easy, Szczerba said.
“Freshman year, it’s definitely tough because you come in with a lot of high expectations. You get used to being the second or third guy. It’s kinda hard to describe. You just push through it. Not every day is the best day, but you know that your time is going to come,” Szczerba said.
Over the weekend, Szczerba watched as his former teammates Quarless (fifth round, Green Bay) and Shuler (seventh round, Minnesota) were selected in the NFL draft.
He was elated for his former teammates.
“I’m really excited for them. Guys you sit in meetings with all year round and now seeing them get a chance to play in the NFL … it’s inspiring,” Szczerba said. “For a guy like me who hasn’t really had significant playing time yet, it makes me want to play well, stay healthy. Hopefully, down the road, that will happen. It’s definitely a goal. If it’s not your goal, then I don’t think you should be out here playing.”
Make no mistake about it, Szczerba’s time has come.
When asked about the tight end position during his news conference, Paterno didn’t hesitate to name a starter.
“Szczerba is going to be fine. He doesn’t have quite the speed that either Mickey or Quarless had, but he’s going to be fine,” Paterno said.
This spring, Szczerba has enjoyed working with all three quarterbacks — Kevin Newsome, Paul Jones and Matt McGloin. Like most of his fellow Nittany Lions, Szczerba side-stepped questions about who is the front runner or who he’d like to see win the starting job.
Jones tossed a pair of TD passes during the Blue-White Game and Szczerba said that it’s important to keep in mind that Jones is very much a part of the horse race.
“No one has a spot etched in stone. I keep telling people how great of an athlete Paul is and what a great arm he has. That’s only going make Kevin and Matt even better. Having a guy like Paul push them will make them want to try and win a starting spot,” Szczerba said.
No matter who is on the field come fall, Szczerba said that he is comfortable catching the football. It doesn’t matter who is behind center.
“They’re all great guys and they all work hard,” Szczerba said. “It’s just a matter of who gets that opportunity.”
Class of 2010: Silas Redd
If there’s one member of the Class of 2010 who was impressive in the Blue-White Game, it was running back Silas Redd.
Redd is the Rivals.com No. 1 player in the state, the No. 4-ranked running back in the class of 2010, and the No. 44 overall player in the class.
With 2,003 yards on 161 carries for a gaudy 12.4 yards per carry, plus 25 touchdowns, Redd earned NEPSAC New England Class C Player of the Year honors following his senior season. He was also rewarded by being named to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl team and was a finalist for the Army National Player of the Year.
As an added bonus, the Lions also received the commitment of Khairi Fortt as part of a type of package deal as Fortt credited Redd’s influence as a major factor in his decision to pick Penn State.
“It feels good. We’ve gone through a lot of the same things together, and now we’re going to be playing on the same team and probably going to a lot of the same classes together,” Redd said. “We’ll possibly end up being roommates, and it’s just a good situation. I’m real happy that everything has worked itself out this way.”
Chris Morelli is an award-winning writer/editor who lives in Centre County and covers Penn State athletics. He is also a regular on “Sports Central,” which airs on ESPN Radio in Altoona and State College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.