On Saturday, three months after Tommy Stevens publicly announced his decision to remain at Penn State, the do-everything quarterback said he feels the same as his teammates — happy with no regrets.
Stevens mulled a transfer over the offseason in hopes to find a starting job elsewhere. But, in the end, he stuck with the Nittany Lions and reflected back on the decision with a smile at Penn State’s annual Lift for Life event, which fights rare diseases.
“The people that would come up to me and say, ‘I hope you’re staying’ now come up to me and say, ‘I’m glad you stayed,’ which is good and kind of what I expected because this place is amazing,” said Stevens, who said he's fully recovered from a spring leg injury. “I’ve come to terms with what I’m going to do, and I’m happy about my decision. I don’t regret it at all.”
That sentiment was echoed by his teammates, who seemed to toss a compliment Stevens’ way every time starting quarterback Trace McSorley was mentioned.
McSorley is the one whose face has graced national magazines and has repeatedly generated Heisman hype. But it’s Stevens, the backup, who’s also become a household name in Happy Valley.
Like most of his teammates, McSorley said Stevens has earned it.
“He’s one of the best dudes on our team,” McSorley said. “I think everyone on our team looks at him as a leader, and that’s something that sometimes isn’t always said about the backup quarterback. His attitude toward everything — it’s awesome to see how everyone views him as one of the leaders of this entire team, and not just the offense.”
It’s no secret that Stevens would like McSorley’s job. The 6-foot-5, 230-plus pound redshirt junior doesn’t show up to the practice field every day or push himself to bench 300 pounds just to be QB2.
But he’s accepted his role within the offense, and he plans to make the most of it. In truth, his role isn’t a terrible consolation prize — he’ll be listed on the roster as the “Lion,” which is essentially Penn State coachspeak for a slash-type player who could run, catch or pass at any time.
“With the production that we lost out of Saquon (Barkley), Mike (Gesicki), DaeSean (Hamilton), I think obviously someone’s got to increase and take more of the reps,” Stevens said. “So I’m expecting my role to increase but within the constraints of the offense.
“However Coach (Ricky) Rahne and the offensive staff decide to use me, I’m going to work as hard as I can to be successful in that role.”
Last season, Stevens was used in garbage time and in limited packages. He finished with 27 carries for 190 yards and four touchdowns to go along with 12 catches for 60 yards and a pair of scores; he also threw for 158 yards and three TDs.
But it’s been his demeanor in accepting his role — coming up short of his goal to be the starter but still working harder than ever — that’s impressed his teammates as much as McSorley has.
“Tommy and Trace are very alike in many ways: They’re both winners, both competitors,” offensive lineman Ryan Bates said. “Trace might be a little more vocal, and a little shorter than Tommy, but they’re very much alike.”
Added running back Miles Sanders: “He also has an extra year, so I can’t wait for that.”
Thanks to the combination of McSorley-Stevens, Penn State boasts the best quarterback situation in the Big Ten — if not the country. The Sporting News named McSorley college football’s best quarterback, and some fans even called for Stevens to replace the prolific signal-caller at times last season.
They’re both similar players, but they’re not identical. Stevens is five inches taller and about 30 pounds heavier, and McSorley can be vocal in a pinch while Stevens chooses to lead more by example. Both are athletic, both are accurate, and both can beat opposing defenses on the run.
This will be Stevens’ team in one more season. He understands that, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to wait another year to turn it up.
“Once the time starts ticking and you start realizing that, hey, you only got two years left, you got to start working harder,” Stevens said. “When I got here, I wouldn’t say I was slacking by any stretch of the imagination. … But I think once that thing starts ticking, you realize, hey, it’s time to kick it up. So I’ve been working a little bit extra hard.”
Added McSorley: “It’s awesome to have him.”