Coming out of State College Area High School, Matt Baney felt his lifelong dream to play at Penn State wasn’t the best choice for him.
So Baney went to St. Francis (Pa.) and played in 10 games as a freshman in 2011. But he realized that wasn’t his dream and decided to chase after the one he originally gave up.
“Growing up in State College, the dream’s always to play at Penn State,” Baney said. “And I just wanted to give myself that opportunity.”
Baney started by calling former Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, who told him he was welcome to try out for the team. He earned his spot, sat out the 2012 season and did not play in 2013.
But the linebacker’s made the most of this spring, highlighted by Saturday’s Blue-White game, in which he returned an interception for a touchdown and played on the first-team defense in the Blue team’s 37-0 win. Baney also finished with one tackle and one pass breakup with his family in the stands.
Penn State linebacker Mike Hull said Nyeem Wartman, who started eight games last season, went down with a minor injury in the spring to open the door for Baney.
Penn State coach James Franklin said he’s still weighing the best defensive package for his team, but the State College native is in the mix to contribute in the linebacking corps this fall.
“He’s a guy I think that’s maximized his experience here,” Franklin said. “We’re gonna evaluate his spring and see what type of role he’s gonna have for us. He’s been very productive. He’s been very productive this spring, there’s no doubt about it.”
That was clear Saturday.
Baney lined up with the first-team defense and made a memorable trip to the end zone on the first series of the third quarter.
On third-and-17, White team quarterback Austin Whipple felt pressure in the pocket and lofted a pass down the field. Baney stepped in front, picked it off and raced 28 yards to the left corner of the end zone, pushing the Blue team’s lead to 23-0.
Baney was quickly surrounded by teammates, celebrating the big play.
“How about Baney today?” Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “He had the interception return for the touchdown. For a State College kid to have an interception return in Beaver Stadium for a touchdown, it’s got to be a thrill for him. He had a great opportunity, and I always tell the guys opportunity is the key to life.”
When Baney decided to transfer to Penn State, all he wanted was an opportunity to live out his dream.
His grandparents are season-ticket holders, and he went to Nittany Lions games throughout his childhood.
His introduction to Penn State football was LaVar Arrington’s famous “LaVar Leap,” a play he watched from home with his family. His favorite memory watching from the stands came in 2005 when Penn State beat Ohio State 17-10, a victory sealed by Tamba Hali’s sack of Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith.
“I just remember that sack that Tamba had on Troy Smith,” Baney said. “I stood the whole game. No one sat down that whole game. It was a crazy environment.”
Now Baney will have a chance to experience that environment from the field.
Hull said his teammate’s been impressive this spring. And he thinks Baney will add to the unit’s depth.
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Hull said. “If he needs to play he can definitely stop the run and be out there. He got his hands on a couple balls today and had that pick-six so that was pretty good.”
Shoop agrees Baney can help the Nittany Lions.
He’s made the most of his chances so far.
“He’s put himself in the discussion to compete in the fall,” Shoop said. “Now he’s got to continue to play against the guys that are on the roster currently and the incoming freshmen. And his ace in the hole is he has 15 practices worth of reps at the will linebacker position, and I’m just really, really happy for him.”
Baney said he’s worked hard and tried to take everything in, watching film and following Hull’s lead. He plans to do more of the same this summer, working to get better while living his dream.
Said Baney: “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”