Franklin not ready to name a starting quarterback after 2019 Blue-White
Penn State quarterback Tommy Stevens, once considered the obvious heir apparent to Trace McSorley, is now in the transfer portal.
A source confirmed to the Centre Daily Times on Wednesday afternoon that Stevens entered his name into the portal. The news was first reported by the Houston Chronicle’s Aaron Wilson, and Blue White Illustrated’s Nate Bauer also confirmed the report by citing an unnamed source.
The news comes days after head coach James Franklin said there needs to be a “true competition” between Stevens and up-and-comer Sean Clifford to decide who will start at quarterback for Penn State in 2019. News of No. 2’s decision also comes a week after the quarterback’s father, Tom, told the CDT that Stevens would leave Penn State if not named the starter.
“I would like to see the coaches make a decision sooner rather than later. That’s the nerve-wracking part, is waiting. Tommy has so much invested in this year, and we know that this is his last shot. If he’s not Penn State’s quarterback, he’s going to be somebody’s quarterback,” Tom Stevens told the CDT. “Everyone already knows, if he’s not playing at Penn State this year, he’s probably going to leave. I don’t think that’s much news to anybody. He wants to be a starter. ... If it’s not Tommy, then I think Sean would do a great job, and we would wish Penn State the best of luck.”
When asked, a Penn State spokesperson released this statement on the Stevens news: “It is Penn State’s practice to not comment on student-athletes who have entered the NCAA transfer portal.”
With Stevens in the portal, the quarterback is free to test the open market. He also maintains the ability to return to Penn State for his final season.
This isn’t the first time Stevens considered leaving Penn State. Stevens’ father told the CDT that the quarterback “knew he could have gone to a lot of different places last year.” Instead, Stevens turned down graduate transfer interest from other programs last spring and stayed in Happy Valley.
To mark his return last season — and the end of transfer rumors — Stevens tweeted a scene from the movie, “The Wolf of Wall Street,” in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s character proclaims that he isn’t leaving. Stevens, speaking with the CDT two weeks ago, reminisced on that post — one Franklin once called the “greatest tweet of all-time” — laughing and recalling how he, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton came up with the idea in the Lasch Building training room. As of Wednesday afternoon, Stevens deleted the post.
After deciding to remain at Penn State last March, Stevens sat out spring ball with a foot injury. That same injury caused him to miss the first four games of the 2018 season. When Stevens returned, his success in the do-it-all “Lion” role was limited. Playing through pain, he scored three touchdowns last season after finding the end zone nine times in 2017. When the regular season finished, Stevens had surgery on his foot, keeping him out of the Citrus Bowl and live, 11-on-11 work this spring.
Stevens said he could have had the surgery when his foot injury flared up in fall camp. But that might have shut him down for most of the campaign. So he opted to play hurt and wait on the procedure.
“I wanted to at least give myself a chance to be successful. And I wasn’t,” Stevens told the CDT earlier this month. “It’s hard to grow in the season, harder to gain confidence, when you’re failing. It’s human nature. There are highs. There are lows. But you have to learn from everything. ... That’s life.”
This spring, Stevens brushed aside the “injury-prone stigma” that he felt was attached to him. The quarterback said he never missed a practice in high school and — up until last spring — hadn’t missed a game or practice for Penn State, either. While limited the past couple months, Stevens participated in 7-on-7 work and threw on the side. He suited up and warmed up for Saturday’s Blue-White Game, but did not play.
In his place — in the game and during spring practice — Clifford took first-team snaps. Behind him, Will Levis handled the second-team snaps. Clifford said last week that he viewed himself as the No. 1 quarterback “right now.”
“When Tommy comes back, it’s back to competition,” the redshirt sophomore added. “And I’m excited for that.”
Stevens — who narrowly lost out in a quarterback competition to McSorley in 2016 — was named Penn State’s No. 1 entering spring camp by Franklin at his National Signing Day press conference. Many believed in February that Stevens would be a shoo-in to replace the program record-holder in 2019.
But Franklin said after the Blue-White Game that — in regards to the starting job — Stevens still has “got to go take it.”
“We want to be able to name the starter as soon as we possibly can, but we are not ready to do that right now,” the coach said Saturday. “Our coaching staff has all the belief in the world in Tommy, our coaching staff understands what Tommy has done and who he can be. But we also have belief in the other guys, and we’ve created real good competition in our quarterback room. We’ll see how this plays out.”