Earlier this week, Grant Haley made it known that he doesn’t want to be known as just “that guy” who returned Marcus Allen’s blocked field goal and helped upset Ohio State. It’s not a bad thing to be recognized for — but Haley believes he’s more than that one play.
So does Penn State cornerbacks coach Terry Smith.
“He’s what makes us go,” Smith said Thursday, raving about the “leader of the cornerback room” during a conference call. “We call him the ‘grandpa of the room.’ He’s such a smart, great athlete, great football player and great person. When we recruit a corner, we want him to resemble what Grant Haley has done for us. I can’t say enough good things about him and the player he is and the person he is. His leadership in our room is why we’re playing at a high level right now. A lot that’s going on on the back-end is attributed to Grant Haley.”
Haley — who picked off Pitt’s Max Browne last week, leading to the first of four Penn State touchdowns — has made plays for the Nittany Lions from the start of his career. The Georgia native had a pick-six against Temple as a freshman, forced his first career fumble as a sophomore at Northwestern, and, of course, sprinted into the end zone against Ohio State in 2016.
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Put simply, Smith can rely on Haley on the field — and off it, too.
“He makes my job easier,” the coach said. “He knows how to communicate with those young guys. He knows how to relay certain messages to those guys. He sets a standard for what’s expected in our room.”
Ending the drought
Believe it or not, the Nittany Lions haven’t had a cornerback drafted since Justin King was selected by the Rams in 2008. Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas — both corners earlier in their Penn State careers — were drafted as safeties in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
While he doesn’t “want to be Nostradamus,” Smith thinks that unwelcomed streak will come to an end sooner rather than later. He believes Haley, Christian Campbell, John Reid and Amani Oruwariye will all be drafted.
“I think our top-4 corners that we have right now, all those guys have a legitimate chance to be drafted, and a couple of them will be drafted extremely high,” Smith said.
And don’t forget about the young corners Penn State has, either. Smith mentioned true freshmen Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields, as well as redshirt freshman Zech McPhearson, as future draft candidates.
“Those guys at this point are more advanced than the older group of guys were when they first came in,” the coach added. “My job is to keep these guys growing and pursuing greatness. Time will tell how it all comes to be.”
Speaking of King, the 2007 first-team All-Big Ten selection is well-adjusted to being a member of the Penn State staff.
The former Nittany Lion became an assistant recruiting coordinator with the program in May, and Smith — King’s stepfather — said he’s doing an outstanding job.
“Him being a letterman and former alum, it helps us in that recruiting department,” said Smith, Penn State’s defensive recruiting coordinator. “Here’s a guy that had his own personal testimony to tell these recruits, of how effective and how good Penn State is.”
Smith said it’s clear King has caught the coaching bug.
“He definitely wants to make it a profession,” the coach added. “That’s his goal, and he loves what he’s doing. Sometimes when you wake up in the morning and it’s never a struggle to come to work and that’s what you’ve been designed to do, that’s how he is. We work long hours, but you don’t feel those long hours when you love what you’re doing.”