Penn State Football

What Penn State LB boasts ‘one of the greatest improvements’ that Dwight Galt has ever seen?

Galt talks the rivalries in the weight room

Penn State football strength coach Dwight Galt talks about the friendly competitions and rivalries in the weight room that keep everyone improving.
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Penn State football strength coach Dwight Galt talks about the friendly competitions and rivalries in the weight room that keep everyone improving.

Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons has generated most of the headlines on defense this offseason — but strength coach Dwight Galt said another young linebacker is gaining ground after “one of the greatest improvements” he’s ever seen.

Sophomore Jesse Luketa has turned a lot of heads these last 18 months, according to Galt. Parsons used to be “1A” to Luketa’s “3C,” the strength coach added, but now it’s more 1A and 1B.

“Jesse Luketa has done an unbelievable job,” Galt said Friday during Penn State’s annual Lift for Life event, which raises money to fight rare diseases. “In the 18 months or whatever he’s been here — 19 months? — he’s had one of the greatest improvements I’ve seen in an athlete.”

Galt didn’t need to consult his records to rattle off some of Luketa’s improved numbers. Some of the gains are so stark it’s hard to forget: Luketa came into Happy Valley with a max bench of 245 pounds and, on Tuesday, did 360 pounds. He used to run an official 4.92 in the 40-yard dash; now, he’s down to 4.68. And his vertical jump is up to 37 inches.

Galt used to try to stoke a friendly rivalry between Parsons and fellow athletic freak Jayson Oweh. But he said the two Twitter-obsessed players don’t need him to push them anymore; their similar personalities often do the work for him.

Now, he’s trying to focus on Parsons and Luketa pushing each other.

“That’s the one I’m always stoking,” Galt said with a smile. “They’re training partners, and it’s been really good for both of them.”

Working with the Patriots

Tight end Pat Freiermuth said he’s heading home to Massachusetts this upcoming week — he has a “discretionary” week off from campus — but Freiermuth isn’t about to binge on Netflix. He’s already made plans to train with a safety from the New England Patriots.

He’ll be working with three-year vet Obi Melifonwu, who’s from UConn. Melifonwu and Freiermuth worked with the same trainer in the past, so the trainer was able to connect the two.

“Just kind of picking his brain and talking about safeties and tight ends and matchups,” Freiermuth said. “I’m excited.”

Veteran newcomers impressing

Galt was asked about both graduate transfer WR Weston Carr and JUCO safety Jaquan Brisker, and he praised them both — especially lauding Brisker.

The strength coach said he “likes everything” about Carr. But Brisker?

“Brisker’s a stud,” Galt said. “Brisker came in at 198 (pounds) when he got here from Lackawanna, and he weighed 213 yesterday. So he’s gained 15 pounds in seven weeks. ... So he’s done a really good job and he’s a big, strong, fast, athletic safety.”

Brisker will compete for one of the starting safety spots this fall. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining. Carr has one more season.

Defensive standouts

Defensive end Shaka Toney was playing at no more than 219 pounds at different points in the 2018 season, but Galt said that’s a thing of the past now for the pass-rush specialist.

“He’s 244, and he’s still got that 4.4 speed,” Galt said.

Toney performed 24 bench-press reps of 225 pounds Friday, one less rep than DT Robert Windsor, who stands at 285 pounds. “I was so pleased with him,” Galt added. “Shaka has done a great job. So he’s got good leadership for us and he’s worked hard.”

Linebacker Cam Brown was also someone whom Galt praised. The strength coach noted that the senior came into Penn State as a 197-pound freshman. Now, he’s 6-foot-5 1/4 and 231 pounds with 3 percent body fat.

“We’re really pleased with how he’s progressed,” Galt added.

DT Damion Barber making strides

There’s a lot of talent and youth on the defensive line, so redshirt sophomore Damion Barber has been overlooked this offseason. But veteran DT Antonio Shelton urged fans and reporters to take a closer look.

“I feel like Damion is going to shock a lot of people,” Shelton said. “Just from what we’ve all seen and what we know of him, Damion folds people in half in practice. I’ve seen it.

“As long as he can be consistent with that, then the coaches will be able to be like, ‘OK, we can throw him out there.’ But Damion has really come a long way; he’s as strong as an ox.”