UNIVERSITY PARK — For a player who’s been in on as many plays and been through as many fires alongside his teammates as Stephen Obeng-Agyapong has over the past few seasons, there isn’t much respect he hasn’t already earned from them.
Playing — and hitting — through the excruciating pain of a torn labrum? That’ll add a wow factor to Obeng-Agyapong’s game and his reputation.
The senior safety revealed Wednesday that he tore the muscle in his shoulder during Penn State’s third game last season against Navy. He made nine tackles in that game and played the next nine notching 23 stops the rest of the way.
“Definitely Obeng, he’s a tough guy. Any time anyone plays through an injury, that’s admirable,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “He’s a great competitor and he really got better as the season went on last year despite the injury.”
Obeng-Agyapong is hoping to cap his Nittany Lion career with a better senior campaign. One not bogged down by a nagging injury would be nice.
For now, he’s on the road to recovery from surgery to repair his shoulder. After undergoing surgery a week after Penn State’s season-ending win over Wisconsin, Obeng-Agyapong is one of a handful of players that is being held out of contact portions of Penn State’s spring practices.
Although he’s been in a red jersey all spring and will most likely not play in Saturday’s Blue-White game, his presence has been felt on the back end of Penn State’s defense. Obeng-Agyapong has taken part in 7-on-7 drills, one-on-ones and has acted as a veteran voice inside team meeting rooms. There, Penn State is breaking in a new safeties’ coach in Anthony Midget and a handful of newcomers to the secondary.
“Nobody questions his toughness,” junior Adrian Amos said. “We knew that he was probably playing injured but he pushed through it. Obeng has always been tough. You know Obeng is going to go 100 percent. He’s going to go full-speed and he’s just another athlete in the secondary.”
Bench, Ferguson neck-and-neck in QB battle
As an offensive minded coach and guru to young quarterbacks, Bill O’Brien has definitely kept close tabs on his developing quarterback battle between sophomores Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson.
So close in fact that O’Brien was able to recite the number of snaps each player has taken leading what is shaping up to be the starting unit thus far.
“Both guys have exactly 168 reps,” O’Brien said before Penn State held its 10th spring practice on Wednesday. “If you’re looking at the 7-on-7s and the 11-on-11s, they both have the exact same amount of reps.”
In addition to their snap counts, Bench and Ferguson have seemingly performed on similar levels. So far Penn State has not allowed reporters to view 11-on-11 scrimmages and their teammates have been pretty quiet on evaluations of the two signal callers.
“They both are taking control of the huddle,” tight end Kyle Carter offered. “They’re both getting adjusted to the right formations and everything. They’ve both been improving.”
Either way, both quarterbacks still have a lot to pick up.
“I can’t say that one guy’s really stood out above the other guy,” O’Brien said. “They’ve both had their moments. I’ve been very impressed with how hard each guy’s worked.”
Ferguson has been with the team since January after playing a season at College of the Sequoias, a junior college in his home state of California. Bench is in his second year with the Nittany Lions. Whichever man wins the starting job will have traveled the country to do so.
Bench, a Bainbridge, Ga. native, and Ferguson who is from Bakersfield, Calif. combine to hail from hometowns over 3,500 miles away from Happy Valley.
“They’re a long way from home and not many guys would do that,” O’Brien said. “So you have to give them both credit for doing that and making the trip and making the choice to come to Penn State and trying to be the quarterback.”
Ficken’s confidence soaring
A dreadful start to last season preceded a strong finish for kicker Sam Ficken.
That solid stretch run in which Ficken ended his sophomore season with a game-winning overtime kick against Wisconsin has helped the junior kicker approach his offseason and spring practice regimen with renewed vigor.
His confidence, which hit an all-time low after a miserable game against Virginia, isn’t an issue anymore.
When asked how many kicks he’d nail from 45 yards if given 10 tries, Ficken deadpanned.
“Ten,” he said. “That’s always my answer. Fifty yards? 10. That has to be my answer. With the early season struggles my confidence was kind of up and down, but near the end of the year I was thinking I was going to make every kick and that really helped me.”
The proof was in the results. Ficken went 3-for-3 against the Badgers in the season finale and hit 12 of his last 13 to close out last season. Now he’s hoping he can cut back on the early-season misses that caused his overall 14-for-21 conversion rate to dip down.
Ficken has made it a point to shorten up his approach steps this spring. On his misfires last season, he often found that his plant foot was often out of place due to what he called a “chop step or two” in his approach to the ball.
“That’s helped me take out that error that I had where my plant foot was a little off sometimes,” Ficken said. “Now I’m hitting the ball more consistent and it has a better flight path, so it’s really helped me.”
Blue-White game to feature same scoring
O’Brien confirmed that next Saturday’s Blue-White Game will feature the same scoring system O’Brien and his staff introduced last season and pit the offense against the defense for the second straight year.
For years the annual intrasquad scrimmage featured normal scoring. Last season O’Brien introduced the concept of awarding points for individual plays.
“The reason why is you’ve got guys going from the Blue team to the White team and all that, plus you win the game. You’re Penn State,” O’Brien said. “It’s more about the fans and kind of trying to make some big plays down the field.”
Touchdowns and field goals are worth the same as they would in a normal game. A play of 15-yards or more for the offense is three points while two consecutive first downs will be worth two points.
On the defensive side of the ball, a turnover generated is worth six points. Sacks and tackles for losses are worth four and two points, respectively while a forced three-and-out will net the defense a point.