Ayron Monroe didn’t know anything about recruiting when he crossed paths with then-Maryland assistant coach James Franklin in seventh or eighth grade.
He remembers Franklin and then-Terrapins head coach Ralph Friedgen visiting his older brother, sitting on the couch and eating dinner. Monroe wondered who they were and said it was “weird” — nobody came to the house for dinner. As Franklin prepared to leave, he shook hands with Monroe, who told the coach it was nice to meet him.
“He looks me in my eyes and tells me, ‘I’m going to offer you one day,’” Monroe said.
Monroe is now playing under Franklin at Penn State, and after contributing on special teams last season, he’s competing for the Nittany Lions’ open spot at safety going into 2017. The redshirt sophomore made one of the standout plays in the Blue-White game on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, hauling in an interception on a pass by quarterback Trace McSorley in the second quarter.
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That natural athleticism has already impressed this spring. And he’s caught Franklin’s eye as the head coach highlighted Monroe, along with backup quarterback Tommy Stevens and linebacker Cam Brown, for their play.
“Ayron Monroe continues to grow and continues to make plays and do really good things,” Franklin said.
After recording a team-high 12 tackles on special teams in 2016, Monroe is among the players who could fill the void left by graduated safety Malik Golden. After watching film from last aseason, Monroe — who said Saturday he still vividly remembers his Penn State scholarship offer — remains intent on fine-tuning his game by staying lower. He also wants to improve his tackling and knowledge of the little things, so he can better anticipate the routes that receivers are going to run.
But, more than anything, Monroe wants to be seen as a reliable player and a threat to change the game at any second. “It should be more of a shock if I don’t make the turnover than if I actually come up with it,” he added.
That’s why he wasn’t too happy with a mistake early in the second quarter, when a would-be interception bounced off his hands. But he made up for it on the very next drive, when he hauled in a rare pick from McSorley. It was the defensive highlight of the game, as he weaved through offensive players for a 65-yard return.
Granted, the return was called back on a flag — but it still showed off the athleticism his teammates have become accustomed to.
“Ayron’s a freak, man. That dude is so athletic,” linebacker Koa Farmer said. “It’s really amazing to see because it’s so effortless.”
Monroe’s athletic feats started at a young age.
Growing up, he played football, basketball, baseball, volleyball and ran track. He inherited that athletic ability from his father, Andre, who played football at Virginia State University. His brother, Andre Jr., enjoyed at standout career at Maryland from 2010-14. He developed his competitive nature trying to outdo his brother in everything from video games to running track.
“I broke the national record in the pentathlon, shattered it,” Monroe said. “It still stands today in the AAU Junior Olympics for 13 years old. And I broke the record for the high jump.”
Now, Monroe’s using that athleticism on the football field. The safety offered a glimpse of his talent Saturday, and he plans to be a difference-maker in the Nittany Lions’ secondary.
“He’s just impressive,” Farmer added. “You guys will see him this fall.”