Penn State Football

Why Penn State DE Jayson Oweh has ‘the potential to wow’ in 2019

PSU DE Jayson Oweh discusses growth from 2018

Oweh, now a redshirt freshman, has the chance to break out in 2019.
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Oweh, now a redshirt freshman, has the chance to break out in 2019.

Penn State’s PJ Mustipher turned his head every which way, searching for defensive end Jayson Oweh at the tail-end of freshman media day. “Hey Jayson!” Mustipher said Wednesday, looking around the Lasch practice field. “Hey man, I’m getting another question about you. I’ve gotten about 10 of these, man.”

Mustipher wasn’t alone, either.

Sure, linebacker Micah Parsons commanded attention. Media members wanted to chat with running back Ricky Slade and tight end Pat Freiermuth, too. But Oweh — who earned the “athletic freak” label bestowed upon Yetur Gross-Matos early in his career — has a chance to break out in 2019, much like No. 99 did last season. And the opportunity for him to do so was a topic on everyone’s lips at Lasch — including Oweh’s.

“My whole recruiting process and even my freshman year has been based on potential. I’m ready to turn that into production,” Oweh said, speaking with reporters for the first time as a Nittany Lion. “I want to showcase what I can do.” And Oweh should have that opportunity in 2019.

Gross-Matos, an eventual preseason All-American and possible 2020 first-round pick, holds down one side of Sean Spencer’s defensive line. Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons figure to handle the other, with Daniel Joseph getting some work in, as well. But Shareef Miller’s decision to forgo his final year of eligibility — and Simmons’ continuing health concerns — will create snaps for Oweh.

That ought to excite a lot of fans who followed Oweh’s recruitment. The four-star prospect from New Jersey is a former high school basketball standout who picked up football as a junior. By time he wrapped up his senior season, the 6-foot-5 pass-rusher had 20 sacks, 27 scholarship offers and a top-100 prospect ranking.

Oweh picked Penn State and contributed a bit as a true freshman, playing in four games and maintaining his redshirt. His 2018 highlight was a pair of sacks in the Nittany Lions’ 63-10 thrashing of Kent State. It was then, on Sept. 15, 2018, that Oweh realized he could compete at the Division I level. But his Sept. 16 film session with Spencer and the staff served as a reality check.

“As a freshman, if you come out and get two sacks, you’re happy and ecstatic and everything. Spence was happy for me, but we got down to it and saw what I could have done better, how I could have got more sacks and more TFLs and how I could have played the run better,” Oweh said, admitting his dependence on raw athleticism as opposed to nuanced handwork. “And then as we got into Big Ten play, I knew I had to get stronger, and I knew I had to learn the playbook better, and I knew I had to get my fundamentals. I just had to work. I’ve never worked this hard in my life.”

It’s paid off in a tangible way for Oweh. Once a gangly, 228-pound freshman, the pass-rusher now stands at 255 pounds. This offseason, he clocked a 4.33-second 40-yard dash, better than his high school time of 4.45. At Penn State’s winter workout max day in February, Oweh squatted 455 pounds seven times, power cleaned 355 pounds, benched 390 and posted an unofficial 36-inch vertical. Penn State strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt said at the time that Oweh “continues to really want to be all that he can be.”

“Jayson’s got a chance,” Galt added. Oweh’s classmates tend to agree.

Mustipher complimented Oweh’s work ethic and said the pass-rusher is bound to “put it all together” in 2019. Offensive tackle Rasheed Walker called him “the real deal.” Meanwhile, Parsons claimed that Oweh “is beyond capable of doing what Yetur does.”

“If Jayson puts his mind to it, he can have one of those seasons where people go, ‘Wow,’” Parsons added. “You can’t teach his size, his speed. His body frame, man, you can’t teach that. It’s god given. He’s blessed. I think he has the potential to wow people.”

Of course, there’s that word again: Potential. Oweh’s heard it for three years now. The potential to play in college, the potential to be a Power 5 pass-rusher, the potential to produce like Gross-Matos.

Oweh has accomplished the first two. The third — matching Gross-Matos’ 2018 tally of 20 tackles for loss, disrupting backfields on a play-by-play basis — will be a tall task. But he’s confident in his ability to get to No. 99’s level.

“I look to Yetur as a mentor,” Oweh said before cracking a smile. “We’re both freaks. But we’re freaks of different natures.”