UNIVERSITY PARK — So much for that quarterback derby.
Sophomore Steven Bench has withdrawn his name from the race to become the Nittany Lions’ next starting quarterback and has been granted a release from his scholarship the athletic department confirmed on Wednesday. Bench had been competing with sophomore Tyler Ferguson to replace Matt McGloin as the Nittany Lions’ signal caller in time for the start of the 2013 season.
Now, Bench will try to play elsewhere. His decision to seek a transfer was made after a meeting with coach Bill O’Brien on Tuesday. O’Brien granted Bench his release on Wednesday.
“After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere,” O’Brien said in a statement. “We want what is best for Steven. I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him anyway we can.”
Bench’s meeting with O’Brien was routine as the coach has held exit interviews with all of his players following spring practice. The sophomore characterized his meeting with O’Brien as a “good talk” but declined to divulge what he was told that influenced his decision to leave.
The quarterback did say he wanted to play at a school where he’d have the opportunity to be the starting quarterback, however.
“I’m not going to elaborate on what was said but I feel like me and Coach O’Brien’s relationship is fine,” Bench told the Centre Daily Times. “We’re both competitive guys. We’re both fiery guys and I think that kind of helps our relationship, but at the same time I’m so competitive you won’t catch me agreeing with the decision he made. But at the same time it’s his decision and it’s out of my control. I’ve got to take care of what I can control and what I can control is me being as competitive as a guy that I’ve always been.”
For now, Bench’s immediate plans are not known. He said he’s been contacted by a few coaches and that he’ll listen to every offer that may come.
Bench will not be required to sit out a year if he transfers to a FBS school due to the NCAA’s lifting of that rule as it applies to Penn State players. The transfer waiver was included with other heavy sanctions following the Freeh Report that concluded Penn State officials concealed information relative to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Penn State players are still free to transfer without having to sit out a year until preseason camp begins in August.
“I do not have an idea of where I’m going to end up at this point,” Bench said. “But I’ve been contacted by coaches and I’ve been in contact with coaches already. I’m not going to say which ones right now but I’m also not closing any doors.”
A Bainbridge, Ga. native and coach’s son, Bench backed up McGloin last season and saw limited action in the Virginia and Purdue games. He entered his sophomore season as Penn State’s most experienced quarterback but was competing with Ferguson for the starting job.
Ferguson was brought in from College of the Sequoias, a junior college in Visalia, Calif. to push for the starting job. Both quarterbacks completed 9-of-15 passes in the Blue-White Game last weekend. Bench threw for 99 yards and a touchdown while Ferguson added 90 yards and two scores.
Both players are a long way from home at Penn State.
With his hometown nearly 1,000 miles away, Bench said location didn’t play much of a role in his decision. He admitted it would be easier to play closer to home, however.
“There are a lot of rumors going around that I want to go somewhere warm. And yeah, who doesn’t?” Bench said. “Who doesn’t want to go where the sun shines a little more? But that’s not going to affect my decision and I’m not closing any doors. I’m keeping my options wide open right now so I can make the best decision for me.”
In addition to Ferguson, Penn State has walk-ons D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple on the roster at quarterback. Vaunted quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg is on pace to join the program this summer. O’Brien has stated in the past that he sees Hackenberg also pushing for playing time right off the bat.
Bench, who was recruited out of Cairo High School, is the fourth scholarship quarterback to transfer out of the program in the last three years. He joins Kevin Newsome (2011), Rob Bolden (2011) and Paul Jones (2012) who have all left the Nittany Lions.
Follow Travis Johnson on Twitter @traviswjohnson_.