Every week, as part of an on-going series, we’ll pose at least five questions to former, current and future Nittany Lions — and this go-round, we caught up with former Penn State tight end Adam Breneman.
Breneman, a five-star recruit alongside Christian Hackenberg in 2012, graduated and left the program in 2015 after a breakout freshman season and two subsequent injury-plagued campaigns.
But the Camp Hill native is back on the gridiron with UMass — and putting up numbers. After tallying 70 catches, 808 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016, Breneman is the No. 8 tight end for the 2018 draft class, according to CBSSports, right behind Mike Gesicki at No. 2.
Breneman discussed his decision to come back to football, his relationship with Gesicki, and Christian Hackenberg’s golf game.
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Q: How did you kind of decide to leave Penn State and leave football?
A: It wasn’t an easy decision. I had some success my freshman year. Things were looking really bright for me, but I went through the two years there in 2014 and 2015 of a lot of ups-and-downs staying healthy, and I had problems with my knee surgery. I graduated in December 2015 and was in a place where I didn’t know if it was ever going to work out. I wasn’t in a great place mentally. I lost the belief that it was going to work out. I had tough conversations with doctors and Coach (James) Franklin and felt the best thing for me — I was so fed up with the adversity I was going through. I wanted to try something new.
Q: Mentally, how did you come to the realization that you wanted to play football again, and was coming back to Penn State ever an option or a thought?
A: When I left Penn State, I really thought I was done playing football. Nothing was planned out. I was ready to move on. ... That rest and not doing much for four months is what my knee needed to truly heal, and it brought me back to be the athlete I know I can be. One of the first people I talked to was Coach Franklin when I was even thinking of playing football again. He was great to talk to, and we had conversations about a lot of things — one of them was coming back to Penn State. Coach Franklin said he’d love to have me back at Penn State and that they’d always have a scholarship for me. I thought about that for a while, but I felt at the end of the day, I didn’t want to be a distraction to my teammates. I already left. I told the fans I was leaving. I already had my degree. I felt like it would draw media attention away from people who deserve it. I needed a fresh start, and UMass was that fresh start.
Q: You’ve had a lot of success at UMass. Is it surreal that both you and Mike Gesicki are considered a pair of top tight end prospects for the 2018 NFL draft?
A: Yeah, Mike’s one of my best friends, and he’s been so supportive of me through everything. We had a competition going on last year of who had more catches and yards each week. It’s awesome just to see him having that much success last year. To think about us going through the Combine and that process next year together, you know, Mike and I lived together during the 2015 season where he was struggling a bit and I was struggling because I couldn’t get on the field. We always talked about fighting through the adversity and the timing is always going to work out. It’s neat to see where this has brought us.
Q: You and Christian Hackenberg kind of carried the torch as highly-touted recruits that stayed committed to Penn State despite the sanctions. What was that experience like, and what kind of a relationship do you still have with Christian?
A: We got pretty close throughout that whole process. Anytime you go through something like that with a group of guys, it brings you close together, and not just Christian — guys like Garrett Sickels, Andrew Nelson, Brendan Mahon. During the sanctions and dealing with the adversity, I’ll always be really, really proud of what we did as a recruiting class and as a team. I think that’s a reason why you see these teams are so tight-knit. No one understands what a lot of those guys went through with the naysayers and the people who thought Penn State football would be dead forever. That’s one of the reasons why they’ve had success now.
Q: Now, you and Christian are pretty big golfers, right?
A: I am a big golfer, and Christian isn’t as good as he says he is at golf (laughs). He’s a little bit better than me, though. A little bit better.
Q: Who’s your Masters pick?
A: My pick was Dustin Johnson, but I just saw he’s out. I’ve always been a huge Phil Mickelson fan. I golf left-handed, so I’ve always been a Phil guy. I root for him every tournament.