UNIVERSITY PARK — With a curly, sandy brown afro spilling out over a gray headband and colorfully vibrant tattoos now etched across his chest, shoulders and upper arms, Alex Kenneys current appearance differs greatly from the inkless, clean-cut, suit-and-tie clad younger man seen in last seasons Penn State football media guide.
Kenneys role on the team could soon change dramatically as well.
After seeing limited action in just two games last season on defense and special teams Kenney has returned to the offensive side of the ball where he joins Penn States wide receivers group. With the loss of former contributors Derek Moye to graduation and Devon Smith, who left the team for personal reasons earlier this summer, Kenney is preparing to take on more responsibility.
Kenney expressed disappointment that Smith a player Kenney called a mentor left the squad, but admitted Smith leaving created a new opportunity for him to step up earlier.
The only pressure is, people say just because Devons gone that makes me the starter, Kenney said. Thats not the case. Nothings set in stone. I have to go out there and prove to these coaches that I can play.
Kenney sat out of Aprils Blue- White Game after having minor knee surgery to remove three cysts in his right knee. The former State College High standout said he probably couldve played in the annual intrasquad scrimmage but, along with the coaching staff, didnt feel a need to push the envelope then.
Despite not playing in the spring game, Kenney had already made strides and impressed his teammates with his abilities.
He can be an outstanding weapon. Hes probably one of the fastest guys in college football, fellow wide receiver Allen Robinson said. He has been working his butt off, too, in the summer, so I think our receiving corps has definitely gotten better since the spring. We got better from winter workouts to the spring and in the spring we got better and we are better than that now. We are all pretty excited for the fall to come.
Smiths departure leaves Penn State without its gimmicky speedster, a player the former Nittany Lion coaching staff deployed in numerous packages the last few seasons.
Although relatively smallish at 5-foot-7 and 147 pounds, Smith could outrun almost everyone on the field. Often Smith would get his legs churning so fast on kickoff or punt returns that he would trip himself in the open field.
Kenneys speed rivals that of Smiths and hes much bigger listed at 6-foot, 193 pounds than the player affably nicknamed Moo- Moo.
While Smith was a Maryland state champion in the 100-and 200-meter runs in high school, Kenney brought home 14 state track and field medals during his high school career for the Little Lions. He finished second in the 100-meter dash as a senior with a time of 10.63 seconds, a race Smith won in Maryland with a 10.42.
Kenney still holds the Pennsylvania indoor track record for the 60-meter dash, a mark he set in 2010 of 6.8 seconds.
He plans to use that speed from the slot or split out wide, whatever the coaching staff will ask of him.
I can honestly say Im comfortable playing in the slot or outside, but I think youll see more of me in the slot, Kenney said. But Im going to hit the playbook as hard as I can and hopefully Ill be able to play numerous positions in the offense.
Kenneys already gotten a jump on how to be a college wide receiver.
He lived with senior Justin Brown last season, getting a taste of what its like to play understudy for a full-time contributor.
Hes obviously an experienced receiver and every day after spring ball we were able to sit down and discuss and I was able to pick his brain, learn how to read coverages, learn how to run crisper routes, Kenney said. And really all of those guys, him, Shawney Kersey, Brandon Moseby-Felder, theyve all been around for a while so its an opportunity to be around them.