Penn State Football

From peanut-mixing factory to Happy Valley: Paris Palmer’s story

Penn State’s senior tackle Paris Palmer, before protecting Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley on Saturdays, spent his days at the factory of Ann’s House of Nuts in Plymouth, N.C., his hometown, mixing nuts.
Penn State’s senior tackle Paris Palmer, before protecting Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley on Saturdays, spent his days at the factory of Ann’s House of Nuts in Plymouth, N.C., his hometown, mixing nuts.

Paris Palmer, unable to walk with a swollen knee and hopeful he’d have another shot at playing the game he loved, sifted through the ingredients for a proper trail mix.

Cashews, peanuts, dates, you name it.

“The dates would hurt our hands, too,” Palmer said with a reflective chuckle. “They came as a boulder. Like a brick of dates. You had to break it up. That was very annoying.”

That was Palmer’s job before he protected Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley. The then-recent high school graduate spent his days at the factory of Ann’s House of Nuts in Plymouth, N.C., his hometown, mixing nuts.

Palmer, now a senior starting at left tackle for the No. 10 Nittany Lions, wanted nothing more than to get back into football at the time. He had to wait, be patient and keep himself motivated.

He didn’t want to be in that factory forever.

It’s not often that a player with no college offers as a senior in high school, who proceeds to tear his ACL after the season playing rec league basketball, gets a second shot at playing Division-I football.

But Palmer was a special case. Palmer, who joined media on a conference call Tuesday for the first time since arriving at Penn State in January 2015, had quite the story to tell.

“I didn’t come in with much expectations,” Palmer said about him joining the Nittany Lions. “I just came in knowing that I had to work. That’s what got me here.”

The lineman, a three-year letterman at Plymouth High School, was a stud in high school, earning all-state honors in 2011 and named a captain his senior year. But he was a stud without a highlight reel — unlike many high school programs that do it for its players, Palmer didn’t have tape made to send out to colleges — so recruiting wasn’t even a process he really went through.

After his senior season, Palmer secured some game film, downloaded a free trial of a video-editing software and created a video himself. Through a mutual coach, Palmer got his reel in the hands of Lackawanna College head coach Mark Duda.

Palmer eventually joined the Falcons for the 2014 season, but the year before doing so he was unsure about his football future. After tearing his ACL and subsequently working in the mixing factory, Palmer spent quite some time not knowing if he’d ever be back out on the field.

“At the time, football wasn’t in my life,” the lineman said. “I was just worried about what was in front of me: having no money, laying around the house, and not being able to walk or run or do anything athletic.”

He remained positive, though, and when the opportunity with Lackawanna came calling, he took it. He was told he’d have another chance to play in front of D-I coaches.

That’s all he ever wanted.

But it was a difficult transition. For starters, his high school offense was a Wing-T (predicated on run play after run play), so learning how to pass block was a process.

So too was getting into shape; Palmer was out of football shape for months, and going through Lackawanna’s rigorous strength and conditioning program was difficult.

Palmer recalls players quitting left and right because it was so hard. That’s when Palmer would have plenty of late-night thoughts, lying in his bed wide-awake.

“I’m doing this for a reason,” he’d tell himself. “This is a means to an end.”

That “end” was Penn State. Penn State head coach James Franklin said Tuesday that he’s known Duda for quite some time and was able to use that connection to get involved with Palmer’s recruitment.

Franklin recalled sitting down with Lackawanna’s highly touted lineman.

“I’ll never forget, I think myself and three, maybe four, other coaches, sitting at a Texas Roadhouse with his mom and Paris,” Franklin said. “It was essentially the home visit. And I don’t know if you guys ever had those rolls with the maple butter. I was hammering those rolls.”

Not only were the rolls good, but Franklin also realized that day the kind of man Palmer was. Palmer had a letter of sorts on his phone, telling the coaching staff that he was committing to them.

Franklin was blown away by Palmer’s thoughtfulness and maturity in the letter.

“He’s got great perspective on a lot of things,” Franklin added. “We’re proud of him.”

And there’s a lot to be proud of.

From a peanut-mixing factory in North Carolina to Lackawanna and now in State College, the 6-foot-7 lineman has made a big impact. After struggling last season to get adjusted to Division-I football, he’s now starting at left tackle and playing well.

Palmer said sometimes he has to step back and realize where he’s at, what he’s doing and where he’s going. After Penn State’s White Out upset over Ohio State, Palmer took a brief second and thought, “Wow I’m really at Penn State right now?”

“It’s a lot to soak in,” Palmer said. “Knowing that I don’t have many of these opportunities left, it’s something I like to think to myself about.

“I’ve come a long way, but there’s still a ton of work to be done.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9