Football consumed Adam Breneman his freshman year.
The Penn State tight end played right away, seeing action in 11 games and making five starts, and he remembers thinking about the game all the time. Then, a left knee injury forced him to take a redshirt season in 2014, and he said he learned how to live without football.
“It was neat to kind of have a season where I was redshirting, didn’t have any football responsibilities and could focus 100 percent on the classroom,” Breneman said Tuesday. “I almost got a 4.0 that semester. I ended up with a 3.9. I was pretty mad about that.”
Breneman is back on the field with the Nittany Lions this spring, continuing to work back from his second knee injury in three years. He said he’s being cautious with how much he does at practice, but he’s going full-speed in drills. Breneman will be among the returning tight ends after Penn State lost Jesse James, who led the tight ends in receiving in 2014 and decided to leave for the NFL Draft.
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Breneman said he was dealing with knee problems as soon as his freshman season ended. He thought he’d be able to play through it without getting surgery even as the issues persisted throughout the offseason.
Once training camp started, he realized he didn’t have a choice. He needed surgery.
“I needed it because I needed to be able to play football at a high level,” Breneman said. “I needed to be able to play for a long period of time.”
It also meant sacrificing his 2014 season, two years after missing his senior season at Cedar Cliff High School due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Breneman said there were times when he was “pretty down,” including a tough couple of days after finding out he would miss the season.
But he chose to look at his misfortune as a positive that would benefit him in the long run.
“The knee that I hurt my senior year of high school is as good as it’s ever been right now,” Breneman said. “So I kind of learned that if you do things the right way and you trust in the process and you work hard, things can get better and looking back on that, my right knee is great, so I’m hoping the other one gets to that point too in the next couple months.”
He maintained a positive attitude throughout the rehab process and supported his teammates. And he used the redshirt season to get stronger — spending the season solely working on his upper-body strength and improving his bench press by about 60 pounds — something he needed to do to develop into a complete tight end who can block defensive ends.
He said his playing time as a freshman varied as a result of inconsistent blocking.
“I would play a lot in a game and not play at all the next game,” Breneman said. “And that was because I wasn’t blocking and (former) coach (Bill) O’Brien said to me if you don’t learn how to block, you’re not gonna play.
“So it kind of took me ‘til halfway through the season to kind of learn how to be nasty and it’s really a mindset, it’s really a mentality to go in there and be confident in yourself on the line of scrimmage.”
He expects to be an effective player on the line of scrimmage due to the added strength.
At this point, Breneman is making sure he doesn’t overdo anything this spring while he works to build his confidence in his knee.
“I don’t feel as athletic as I know I can be right now,” Breneman said. “That’s because I haven’t been running, I haven’t been back for that long, which I think another reason this summer is such a big summer for me because it’s a summer where I can go out there and train with no restrictions and get back to where I want to be athletically.”
Last summer, he dealt with the knee injury that ultimately cost him the season.
“I wish I would have been playing,” Breneman said. “But to have that year off, I think I took advantage of it as best as I could.”