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State College, PA – Penn State Football: Noting a Real Degree of Success for Transfers –

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Tommy Stevens has safely landed in Stark Vegas.

So, for the most part, transfer season is over in college football and at Penn State, an offseason leader in that category.

In that regard — like many of his former teammates — Stevens’ departure has been a success. To a degree.

Actually, with a college degree.

Of course, the definition of success is a mixed bag, and depends upon your vantage point.

The exodus of so many former lifelong Lions deprives James Franklin’s 2019 squad of maturity, wisdom, leadership and, at the very least, depth.

We can’t disregard the degree to which many of the seasoned veterans will be missed in Lasch meeting rooms, players’ apartments and dorms, and on the playing field. The absence of so many solid and steady fifth-year leaders may only exacerbate the youth of the 2019 Nittany Lions.

Stevens departed Happy Valley with 872 yards, 14 touchdowns, 38 victories, a somewhat-legendary legacy as both Tommy Touchdown and The Lion, and one college degree. At Mississippi State, he’ll continue his college education, on and off the field.

That’s true for many (and Manny), if not most of his fellow Nittany Lion Portal Travelers. And that’s a good thing. By my count, nearly a dozen of the football players who left PSU since last August with eligibility remaining did so with their college degree in hand.

That’s a credit to them, Franklin himself and his academic staff, led by academic advisor and former Nittany Lion linebacker Todd Kulka. Stevens and some of his former Penn State teammates may not have had the Penn State football career that they dreamed of, but their pigskin prowess did help them get their sheepskins.

Which, whether they go to The League or not, is money in the bank — a million bucks worth, in fact. Not bad.

According to a study by the U.S. Census Bureau, the lifetime earnings of a high school graduate average about $1.2 million. A college grad with a bachelor’s degree can figure on lifetime earnings of $2.1 million, and a master’s degree grad earns about $2.5 million.

LONG LINE OF EX-LIONS

The main purpose of college is to get an education, get a degree and set yourself up to get some great opportunities.

Stevens did just that. Just like one of his very best friends, Juwan Johnson (now at Oregon). As well as his former receiving targets Brandon Polk (James Madison) and Danny Dalton (Boston College), and blocker Alex Gellerstedt (Virginia).

All left Penn State with their degrees and will spend 2019 playing football somewhere other than Beaver Stadium. Same goes for Jarvis Miller (UMass), Manny Bowen (Utah), Zech McPhearson (Texas Tech), Sterling Jenkins (Duquesne) and Torrence Brown (Southern Mississippi). 

The portal helped give them that chance. As did a NCAA system that is slowly, and only on occasion surely, treating college athletes like other college students. There’s a ways to go, though, until the day comes when all college athletes — no matter what division, no matter what year, no matter what sport or conference — will be eligible to not just transfer but to immediately take part in college extra-curricular activities (like intercollegiate athletics), just like any other bona fide college non-athletic student who meets transfer requirements.

So, ain’t no reason to hate on the former Nittany Lions now on other college campuses. Each, in his own way, contributed to Penn State’s recent string of success. And each did what was best for him.

Other transfers who left Penn State over the past several months, sans degree, include Isaiah Humphries (Cal), Dae’lun Darien (Delaware), Brelin Faison-Walden (UNC-Charlotte), Matt Alosi (Long Island U) and Brandon Clark (Slippery Rock).

Some departures have been smoother than others.

Johnson is a sure starter (and star, I think) at Oregon, catching passes from likely NFL first-round draft pick, quarterback Justin Herbert. Bowen looks like he is thriving at Utah under the stability and direction of head coach Kyle Whittingham, the third-longest tenured head coach at the same school in the NCAA FBS (15 years, a 120-61 record).

Miller is a high-quality young man, a black belt who is destined to make an impact at UMass, just 45 minutes from his home in Connecticut. This spring, first-year UMass head coach Walt Bell had this to say about Miller: “Especially in the first year of building a culture, you have to make sure the guys you bring into the roster as older guys that they handle their business and do what they’re supposed to do. He’s been everything that we were told he was. He’s one of the best workers on the team, great vocal leader, great physical leader by example. (We’re) glad he’s here.”

Brown, who flashed great potential in the 2016 season, started the first three games of the 2017 season, but suffered a season- and potentially career-ending injury in the first quarter of the Georgia State game that year. Brown never played another down for Penn State, taking a medical retirement. He’s eligible for a sixth season (it had to be at a school other than PSU, given the parameters of the medical hiatus), which he will take at Southern Miss. If healthy, the NFL could be in his future.

(More immediately, though, a showdown with Stevens is in the cards. Southern Miss plays at Mississippi State on Sept. 7, and it is very possible the two former longtime teammates will meet head-to-head on the playing field.)

Let’s not forget that safety Lamont Wade and wide receiver Cam Sullivan-Brown entered the portal, took a look around, and decided to stay home at Penn State. Wade could end up as a starter in 2019.

There’s no guaranteed smooth sailing for everyone, though.

Former Penn State safety Ayron Monroe, also with a degree in hand, has not landed with another program, which in January he Tweeted was his plan. Wide receiver Irv Charles, who last played for Penn State in 2017, entered the portal and seemingly has not landed with a college program. He is now working out with former Penn State running back Bill Belton, who has started his own training company, Athletic Firm. Cornerback Jabari Butler who transferred to Penn State from Abilene Christian, arrived in 2017, never cracked the starting lineup and left at the end of the 2018 season. 

THE 6 COACHES YOU MEET IN STARKVILLE

In Stevens’ case, Starkville was a soft landing spot — for many reasons.

He knows head coach Joe Moorhead’s offense. He knows JoeMo. He knows that last season’s starting QB, Nick Fitzgerald, has graduated. 

And Stevens, who arrived in State College in January 2015, knows five other MSU coaches and staffers:

Mississippi State defensive coordinator/savant Bob Shoop led the Lions’ defense in 2015. Bulldogs director of recruiting Mike Villagrana was on Penn State’s recruiting staff from 2015-17. MSU defensive quality control assistant Will “Moneyball” Reimann was an offensive analyst at Penn State in 2017, after a stint at Fordham under Moorhead and then working for Andrew Breiner, the Bulldogs’ current offensive coordinator/QB coach who succeeded Moorhead as Fordham’s head coach in 2016-17.

(Breiner, 35, is a native of Hummelstown, Pa. He played collegiately at Lock Haven and then served as a GA under Moorhead at UConn, before following JoeMo to Fordham. He’ll be Stevens’ position coach on a daily basis.)

Stevens, who is nearly 22-and-a-half, was actually teammates with two MSU assistants, both of whom have the cliched yet true high football IQs.

Nyeem Wartman-White, now a Mississippi State defensive graduate assistant, was a standout linebacker at Penn State from 2012-16. And Stevens will also be reunited with Billy Fessler. Fessler was a walk-on backup quarterback at Penn State from 2014-17, serving as Penn State’s kick holder in 2017 in addition to being the primary offensive signaler in 2015-17. Last season, Fessler was a GA at Slippery Rock.

Now, Fessler will once again be giving Stevens the play calls — to a degree, anyway.

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