Looking back at Carl Nassib’s career at Malvern Prep, head coach Kevin Pellegrini questions himself.
Nassib, a defensive end, got lost in the shuffle in a program that leans heavily on seniors. By his senior year, he didn’t start but never questioned Pellegrini and his staff. Nassib was a coach’s dream who was willing to do whatever was asked and made the most of his opportunities.
But Pellegrini wonders what might have been if he and his staff had realized what they had in Nassib.
“I don’t think we found him early enough,” Pellegrini said. “And I put that blame on myself as a coach.”
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Nassib’s modest high school career could have marked the end of his playing days, but his highlight tape caught the eye of former Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. Nassib took the opportunity to walk on at Penn State in 2011, and he’s now in position to become a starting defensive end in 2015.
Nassib and his teammates will finish the spring with the Blue-White Game on Saturday at 4 p.m. at Beaver Stadium.
The West Chester native is in the mix to fill the void left at defensive end by the departures of starters Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan.
“I’m thankful every day that I’m here and I’m on the Penn State defense and to just be a part of the tradition and the legacy of Penn State defense,” Nassib said. “Penn State football, that’s a legacy in its own, but the defense, that’s just a huge honor and to contribute to that and be a leader on that is pretty awesome.”
It’s been an improbable journey for Nassib.
He arrived at Malvern Prep as a tall, skinny kid with potential. The Nassib name carried a certain expectation established by Carl’s older brother and quarterback, Ryan, who would go on to enjoy a standout career at Syracuse and currently plays for the New York Giants.
Pellegrini said Carl Nassib surpassed the expectations with his effort and work ethic. He grew from around 6-foot-2, 160 pounds as a freshman to around 6-foot-6, 215 pounds as a senior, when he was a part of the defensive line rotation.
“Part of that was just natural and the other part was him doing what we asked in the weight room,” Pellegrini said. “He’s the type of kid, you didn’t actually have to ask him to be in the weight room, he was going to be there anyway.”
The coach will never forget Nassib’s final game for Malvern Prep against St. Joseph’s Prep on Thanksgiving.
“He was so dominant with three quarterback sacks and rushes and plays all over the field,” Pellegrini said. “I think that’s the way anybody would want to go out.”
Nassib, who hopes to be a doctor one day, wasn’t ready to leave football behind in high school.
“To be quite honest, I didn’t have that many offers at all,” Nassib said. “At that point of my life, I was maybe focusing more on med school and I was thinking more about that point in my life.
“But then I was presented with the opportunity to come to Penn State and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m definitely coming here.’ This is a dream.”
Nassib redshirted his freshman season in 2011 and did not play in 2012, but he didn’t back down from his teammates at practice.
“College football is a much different bear than high school football,” Nassib said. “I was never scared. I was always confident in my abilities because you need to have that. You can’t second-guess yourself or you’ll get pummeled by a 300-pounder.”
Nassib said he followed the examples set by former walk-ons Jesse Della Valle and Ryan Keiser, who just finished their careers last fall. Both went on to earn scholarships in their careers.
Nassib received his scholarship before the 2013 season.
“I hadn’t paid my (tuition) bill that day,” Nassib said, “so I walked up to Bill O’Brien’s office and I was like, ‘Oh crap, I’m not going to be able to practice.’ And then he said I was on scholarship so that was pretty intense. I texted all my family and it was an awesome day I’ll always remember.”
Penn State offensive lineman Angelo Mangiro remembers Nassib doing extra work in the weight room early in his career. He respects the sacrifice the walk-ons make to be part of the program without a scholarship.
“To see a guy like Carl come in here and work and work and work and earn a scholarship, you’re just so happy for him,” Mangiro said. “I knew that was one of his dreams, he wanted to be a scholarship player.”
Mangiro said Nassib is going to be a player the Nittany Lions rely on this season.
Penn State coach James Franklin called Nassib “Mr. Consistent” before the spring, saying he does everything right. Nassib contributed on a dominant defensive line last season, playing in all 13 games and recording 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack.
“I think (Nassib) had a sneaky, quiet, really successful year, if you go back and really study his tape,” Franklin said. “He played really well for us, going back and watching the tape on him.”
Nassib has received praise throughout the spring from teammates, who have high expectations for the veteran end.
“That guy is one of the best ends I think I’ve ever played against at Penn State or throughout my games of playing in the Big Ten and all of those ends,” tackle Andrew Nelson said. “I played against some great ends this past year and I think Carl Nassib’s really going to have a heck of a year this year.”
Nassib has continued to work toward medical school at Penn State. He’s a biology major and wants to become a pediatrician.
But he said football is his passion.
Said Nassib: “I want to ride this football thing as long as I can.”