Franklin not ready to name a starting quarterback after 2019 Blue-White
Tommy Stevens — at one point, the obvious successor to program record-holder Trace McSorley — is leaving Penn State.
Stevens’ father, Tom, told the CDT on Thursday afternoon that the quarterback is “certainly leaving” and will look for a new school to play out his final year of eligibility. Stevens’ father declined to say when his son’s decision was made, but called the choice “the worst-case scenario.”
“He came to Penn State to be the starting guy. For it to end up like this, it tore Tommy apart,” Tom Stevens told the CDT. “He loves Penn State. ... He really went back and forth with this. It’s been really, really, really difficult. But he understands that it’s a business at the end of the day.”
Stevens’ father also declined to get into detail as to why his son decided to leave Penn State. But the quarterback — who had an “exit meeting” with Penn State head coach James Franklin on Wednesday afternoon — was bothered by “things that went on behind the scenes” that he and his family “had to put up with.”
Stevens, his dad, Franklin and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne met a few months ago to discuss where the quarterback stood in the program’s plans. Stevens’ father “reiterated” to Franklin and Rahne then that Stevens couldn’t afford to wait until August and then find out he’s not Penn State’s starter. All his doors would be closed by that point.
But when asked after Saturday’s Blue-White Game if Stevens would be the starter entering fall camp, Franklin was noncommittal. “Tommy’s situation puts us in a tough spot because he had an injury that made it difficult,” the coach said. “We want to name the starter as soon as we possibly can. But we’re not ready to do that right now. It’s going to be more of a true competition.”
That line of thinking — the waiting — did not sit well with Stevens and his family. On Thursday, Stevens’ father offered the same sentiment that he did last week in a conversation with the CDT: “This is his last shot.” And after much deliberation, Stevens is taking that last shot elsewhere.
“It’s not a sudden thing. But it’s something we’ve been hoping to avoid at all costs,” Stevens’ father said. “That’s why he made the decision to come back last year. He wants to be there. But, unfortunately, he has to make a selfish decision at this point and do what’s best for him. What we felt like was best for him was leaving Penn State and exploring other options.”
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.”
Now in the portal, Stevens can speak with college coaches across the country without interference from Penn State’s staff. Technically, he could still go back to the Nittany Lions — although that doesn’t seem like an actual option. “Honestly, I don’t think that he’ll be welcome back at this point if he wanted to come back,” Stevens’ father said.
Instead, the 6-foot-5 dual-threat quarterback will look to find a fresh start. Stevens’ father said the former three-star recruit and Indiana commit has received recent interest from Power 5 programs and FCS schools. He declined to divulge which schools reached out to Stevens via the portal.
This isn’t the first time that Stevens thought about the transfer market. The portal didn’t exist this time last year, but Stevens considered a potential transfer last March before staying in Happy Valley in hopes of landing the starting gig.
Stevens was viewed as the likely 2019 starter for the past few years. Even in February, Franklin said Stevens was Penn State’s first-team quarterback entering spring camp, followed by Sean Clifford and Will Levis.
Clifford — a redshirt sophomore who completed 5 of 7 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns in 2018 — is now the clear choice to replace McSorley come the fall. The former four-star prospect took first-team reps this spring, after all, while Stevens worked himself back from foot surgery that kept him out of the Citrus Bowl.
This spring, Stevens did not participate in the Blue-White Game as he recovered from a foot injury that forced him to miss the first four games of the 2018 regular season. Stevens took part in 7-on-7 drills and threw on the side the past couple months — but mainly, the quarterback watched as his long-term plan faded away.
Stevens took advantage of his scholarship, earning his Bachelor’s degree at Penn State in December. The quarterback “couldn’t be more grateful for that opportunity,” according to his father. But now, as the 2019 NFL draft nears, Stevens wants to put himself in a situation where he can play at the next level in 2020.
After verbally committing to Penn State in 2014, after becoming a fan favorite as the do-it-all “Lion,” after playing through pain and struggling in 2018, Stevens decided that it was best to leave Penn State for his final season. Even if it was a hard choice to make.
“He’s been the ultimate teammate. He’s done everything right. ... The ‘Lion,’ whatever, he’s done everything with a smile on his face,” Stevens’ father said. “Now that his education is over, he wants to play in the NFL. He feels like every day from here on out is an audition for the NFL. He’s a firm believer that he’s going to land on his feet, and that’s the light at the end of the tunnel for him. He’s in a bad place right now mentally, having to make a decision like that. But he’s going to be better for it. ... He wishes things were different. He really does.”