UNIVERSITY PARK — Anthony Midget still isn’t completely sure how his name came up on Bill O’Brien’s contact list as a candidate to fill a coaching position on O’Brien’s Penn State staff in February.
Midget had just been hired as a defensive assistant at Marshall and had been there for just over a week, so he was surprised by O’Brien’s call. Midget’s best guess is that a mutual friend recommended him.
Either way, the Penn State head coach’s offer was enticing enough even when coupled with the reality of the heavy NCAA sanctions leveled against the program.
Midget couldn’t say no.
“It was an opportunity to come and be a part of Penn State, and yes, I understand what I was getting into,” Midget said. “But there was never a doubt in my mind, with Coach O’Brien and what the guys did last year, that I wanted to be a part of this staff and be a part of getting this thing turned around, and just building on what they did last year and just taking this thing to the next level.”
For now Midget’s role will be mentoring Penn State’s safeties while pooling his efforts with first-year defensive coordinator John Butler who will coach the cornerbacks.
It’s a job description Midget is pretty comfortable with.
After helping lead Virginia Tech to the 1999 BCS Title Game where the Hokies lost to Florida State, Midget dabbled briefly in the NFL with stints as a defensive back in Atlanta and Tampa Bay. After a year as a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech, Midget began his coaching career at Georgia State University in 2008. There, he coached the Panthers secondary and special teams before he was promoted to defensive coordinator before last season.
The Panthers went 1-10 last season but managed to field the Colonial Athletic Association’s seventh best pass defense in the process.
“Coming here and being able to focus on one position has been great,” Midget said. “The game has changed so much, it’s benefit to have two secondary coaches to split it up and have an opportunity to work with guys just strictly for the safeties and corners.”
Three starters return from last year’s secondary corps and all three have experience at the position Midget will be focused on. Seniors Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong are the favorites to lock down starting safety gigs as both started the majority of games there last season. Junior Adrian Amos, primarily used as a cornerback in 2012, also played safety at times last season, including crucial third down snaps as one of Penn State’s last lines of defense.
With only a little over a month between the time he accepted O’Brien’s offer to the start of spring practice, Midget had to familiarize himself with his personnel and Butler’s defense quickly. He did so by sitting in on film session after film session on every safety in the program with Butler nearby.
Having Willis and Obeng-Agyapong available to help lead practice drills and act as mentors in the team meeting room was a big advantage in easing his first weeks, Midget said.
“That has been a key, to have two guys and two seniors that have played a lot of football,” Midget said. “That makes it a lot easier as opposed to coming in if I was dealing with a lot of freshmen and guys that didn’t have playing experience. ... Malcolm Willis has been great, has been a tremendous leader and also Obeng has been a good leader and it’s made the transition that much easier because those guys are basically coaches on the field.”
For now though, Obeng-Agyapong is being held out of contact drills as he recovers from a shoulder injury. His absence has provided younger players with opportunities to possibly earn more playing time.
Although he’s been in on many snaps entering his junior season, Amos is a player that has stood out to Midget. Their playing histories aren’t all that different. Midget, who swapped from corner to safety and back during his senior year with the Hokies, said he loved playing multiple positions and has been encouraged by Amos’s knowledge of both spots.
Midget also hinted at the return of the nickel defense to Penn State’s list of schemes. Due to a lack of experienced defensive backs, Penn State did not use a nickel package last season and instead inserted linebacker Mike Hull in a coverage role and moved Amos to safety. Da’Quan Davis played Amos’s usual corner spot in those passing situations.
“(He’s) a guy that played many roles for us last year and he’ll probably do the same thing this year,” Midget said. “(He’s) a guy that we can move around and he’ll probably play safety, play corner, play nickel and do many different things for us. It’s guys like that that help us out because of his versatility.”
Midget has also been helping break in Malik Golden, a wideout-turned-safety who has turned heads so far this spring, Midget said.
“For Malik to go from wide receiver to safety, he’s picked up on it as far as from a physical standpoint,” Midget said. “He just has some natural abilities that I think is going to help us in the future.”
Midget, like Penn State’s other assistants, will also keep his mind to the future as it pertains to recruiting. The former Hokie All-American has been tabbed by O’Brien to recruit south southern Florida and the Cleveland, Ohio area.
Expanding recruiting efforts into Ohio has been a focal point for O’Brien’s staff and it was a long talking point with running backs coach Charles London earlier this winter. Penn State has only three players from the Buckeye state on its current roster.
Defensive tackle Nate Cadogan and guard Anthony Stanko are the lone Ohio recruits Penn State has landed in its last five recruiting classes combined. Meanwhile, Midget is expected to contribute to southern recruiting efforts as well. He joins quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, Wide receivers coach Stan Hixon, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and London as another coach with Deep South ties. Midget was born in Clewiston, Florida and played high school ball for Clewiston High.
Steven Bench (Ga.) and Gary Wooten (Fla.) are two recent prospects to come out of the Deep South while incoming defensive backs Neiko Robinson (Fla.) and Kasey Gaines (Ga.) are expected to join the team this summer.
“We’re going to states like Florida and Georgia and just getting the guys who have an interest in Penn State, that fit the mold of what we want,” Midget said. “Guys that can play in any type of weather, just tough and just love to play the game. And then when you’re going down to Florida and those southern states obviously you want guys with speed and that can run.”