Ben Kline is getting around just fine nowadays, albeit with the aid of an electric scooter.
Of course, he’d prefer it not to be this way, but the Penn State linebacker isn’t the type to sulk. It’s likely nobody would blame him if he did.
In the last two years, Kline has dealt with shoulder injuries and a torn pectoral muscle that have limited him to 18 games. He’ll likely miss the entirety of his junior season with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon suffered during an informal workout on June 24.
“He’s the most positive kid in the world,” Penn State Director of Performance Enhancement Dwight Galt said. “Within three days he was like, ‘I’ve got to get healthy, get through the surgery and do Lift For Life.’ He knows his situation is going to be a little tenuous for this year.”
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Kline can check two of those objectives off his list.
He recently had surgery to repair his left Achilles’ and as president of Penn State’s Uplifting Athletes chapter, helped organize and oversee Saturday’s 12th annual Lift For Life that brought in a record $140,000-plus to benefit the Kidney Cancer Association. With his left foot and most of his lower leg encapsulated in a boot, Kline raced from station to station on his scooter and interacted with fans at Lift For Life.
Now, Kline can continue to focus on regaining his health.
“I’m just working hard to get better every day and get back on the field and get back as quickly as I can,” Kline said. “We’ve got great doctors and trainers that do a great job of making sure that anybody who gets hurt gets back healthy and I have full faith in them that it’s going to work out.”
The plan was for Kline to play a major role in the team’s defense this season. He was listed as one of the Nittany Lions’ starting outside linebackers coming out of spring practice, despite being held out of contact drills for precautionary reasons following offseason chest surgery.
Now, the plan is to get him back in the weight room and continue his rehab.
Galt said he expected Kline would start lifting this week, although the team does not expect him to play this season. The expected recovery time for his injury — the same one that sidelined teammate Brad Bars all of last season — is six to eight months. Kline still has a year of eligibility remaining.
Offensive lineman Miles Dieffenbach was facing a similar recovery timetable from a left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear.
Dieffenbach was injured at the beginning of spring practice in late March. But while Dieffenbach confirmed his injury status on Saturday, the fifth-year senior also said he is hopeful he’ll be able to return at some point this fall. He’s had surgery and is walking without the aid of a brace.
He’s dropped his weight to below 300 pounds to facilitate his recovery and ease the strain on his surgically repaired ligament.
“Miles is doing so well with his rehab,” Galt said. “We’re pushing him as far as Dr. (Scott) Lynch and (head athletic trainer) Tim Bream will allow us to push him, but he’s really doing a great job. He took his weight down which is really smart. That’s kind of advanced, veteran player 101 when you’re a big lineman and you have to get your movement back. Get your weight down, get everything back and then right before you play get everything back up.
“Hopefully we’ll get to see him a lot this year.”
Meanwhile, their teammates have seen plenty of Kline and Dieffenbach this summer. It’s no coincidence that both have taken on added responsibilities mentoring younger players at their respective position groups. Penn State’s linebacker and offensive line corps are both ripe with young — but largely unproven — talent.
Senior Mike Hull and sophomore Nyeem Wartman are the only linebackers remaining who have started eight games or more. With Dieffenbach out, only junior left tackle Donovan Smith remains from last season’s starting offensive line.
In addition to his duties with Uplifting Athletes, Kline has made it a point to stick around in the locker room and weight room during the team’s lifts.
“Anytime that you’re in that locker room, it’s the best part of your day no matter what,” Kline said. “And seeing those guys and being around them just makes it really easy to deal with things like (the injury).”
Dieffenbach, meanwhile, has made it a priority to meet with the team’s offensive linemen for film sessions twice a week.
“I’m there every day working out with the guys but I definitely want to stay involved and teach these younger guys what I know, kind of be a coach this summer and help the guys out a lot,” Dieffenbach said.
Both Kline and Dieffenbach are among the most respected players on the team.
Dieffenbach’s seniority and experience — he started 23 games the last two seasons — are complemented by his sense of humor. His teammates are always quick to point out Dieffenbach’s ability to bring levity when it’s needed.
While Kline has started just two games over the last two years, he’s regarded as one of the team’s toughest players. Kline tore a pectoral muscle in the opening moments of the Minnesota game last season and finished the day with two tackles, a fact not lost on former coach Bill O’Brien, who made a point to address Kline’s toughness with the opening remarks of his follow-up press conference that week.
Hull said losing both Dieffenbach and Kline for any amount of time will be tough for the team. Deep down, Hull knows it’ll be tougher for them as individual competitors.
“Last year, I missed two games, parts of two others and I felt sick to my stomach every time,” said Hull, who battled a knee injury last season. “I couldn’t imagine doing what they’re doing. I feel so bad for them, especially because both of them are such hard workers and leaders for our team.”