UNIVERSITY PARK — It is practically a job opening listed with blinking letters on a web site, or large, bold type in the newspaper.
The Penn State football team needs a couple starting receivers. Send your applications to the Lasch Building.
“It’s really an unfortunate situation the way things have gone and with the people that left,” redshirt sophomore and State College product Alex Kenney said. “We’re just trying to move forward. It’s just a new opportunity for me and I’m just trying to make the best of it.”
When spring practices ended, the Nittany Lions’ depth chart looked fairly solid with who the starting receivers would be, and it appeared to be a strength of the offense.
Then, due to personal reasons, Devon Smith left and has yet to appear on the roster of another football program. His departure was followed earlier this month by harsh NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal which opened the door for anyone to transfer to another program without having to sit out a year, and Justin Brown was among those who took advantage in bolting for Oklahoma.
With those two gone, along with the graduation of several others including 2011 leader Derek Moye, suddenly there was a large hole to fill. No one on the roster had more than five catches last season.
“It’s more than losing great weapons,” said redshirt junior Christian Kuntz, who had one catch for 17 yards in 2011. “You lose great friends. This team — I’ve never been a part of a team that’s been so close even through these tough times. We all have the same goal - to move forward.”
For players such as Kuntz, Brandon Moseby-Felder and Shawney Kersey, each of whom is at least in his third year with the program, the waiting is over and the jobs are there for the taking.
“I’ve been ready for a while,” Kersey said. “But now I have to be ready.”
Even before the NCAA decree, the receivers knew there were going to be plenty of opportunities to grab a position, since the changes to the coaching staff also brought new philosophies and clean slates for everyone.
“It was always going to be a battle throughout this camp,” said Kersey, who started three games last year. “It’s a little more open, it’s a little more pressure but it’s fine. It’s really the same.”
Kersey had five catches for 108 yards — the leader among returning receivers — last fall, and his 6-foot-1 frame, speed and good hands figured to have him on the field often even if Brown and Smith had not left.
Moseby-Felder (6-foot-2), sophomore Allen Robinson (6-3), Kuntz (6-4) along with Kersey give the Nittany Lions some decent size at wide receiver. Head coach Bill O’Brien especially singled out Robinson and Kersey during his media day talk last week.
“These guys are 6-foot-3,” O’Brien said, “they both can run, they can jump, they’ve got great hands, they’re good competitors, they’re tough.”
Kenney, a defensive back until he was moved to receiver for last season’s TicketCity Bowl, appears to be the leader as the slot receiver, but the position is murky after that. Evan Lewis, a kicker last season who booted a field goal against Alabama, is likely No. 2 on the depth chart, though it has not been officially updated since June.
With all the departures and changes, the group also was left with a void in terms of seasoned veteran leadership — someone to go to for advice large and small, on the field and off.
“As a receiving corps, we kind of lean on each other whenever someone (doesn’t) know something or if we see something in the route-running,” said Robinson, who made three catches for 29 yards last year. “We all help each other out to try to be the best players and best receivers we can be.”
The players pointed out they also go to their position coach — Stan Hixson — for their questions, but last week Kuntz, Moseby-Felder and Kersey also took it upon themselves to get the group together, talk about the team goals and provide some leadership even if they don’t have a lot of on-field experience.
“I claim ‘Dad’ of the group,” Kuntz joked. “I feel like I’ve been through the most.”
Kuntz is also just happy to be heading into the season in good health. With a broken collarbone and knee injury among his medical ailments since he arrived on campus.
“I did pay a lot of dues,” Kuntz said. “You’ve got to do that sometimes to get up there. I felt that way just being able to get through a spring. It’s like, ‘What can I do now that I’ve survived an offseason?’”
While there is plenty of size, speed and talent at the position, who ultimately steps into the starting lineup may also be impacted by who best grasps the new playbook — which has changed tremendously from last season thanks to a coaching staff with experience in the NFL and other top-flight college programs.
“It’s like remembering the Holy Bible. It’s like remembering the Bible or the Koran — like that,” Kersey said. “It’s real big and it’s a lot.”
Adding to the obstacles was a change in terminology for the veterans — “It’s a whole different language,” Kersey said — who had several years of comfort with all the old plays.
When asked about the playbook last week, the widened eyes of the receivers showed how daunting the task was.
“It’s like taking a 500-level, 400-level course,” Kuntz said. “It’s something we had the spring to get a taste of it, and now we have the summer here to refine it.”
Since the Blue-White game, the receivers usually got together at least twice a week to go over the book, and after classes and afternoon workouts they would hit the field daily to work on routes with the quarterbacks.
“It’s going be tough,” Kuntz said. “I think I know it, but Coach O’Brien says these are just the installments. We haven’t even gotten to the heavy stuff yet. Even in the spring game we only showed like 10 percent of what we’re going to do. I thought I knew the whole complicated offense.”
Regardless, they all have to be ready for the season-opener against Ohio on Sept. 1 — when we all find out who filled those job openings.
“He’s going to use us each for what we’re good at,” Kersey said. “We’re going to pick defenses apart — that’s how I feel.”