Because of a day-to-day routine that is more uniform than variable, Penn State’s receivers know that their biggest moments on the field may just be the only things that set them apart once their helmets are on.
It’s a position group at Penn State that is, to say the least, crowded. Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall — all similar in both age and hunger for reps — are put through the same paces day in and day out.
“We’re all growing together,” said Blacknall via teleconference on Wednesday morning. “We’re all in the same classes, learning everything at the same time, in the same time frame. ... We’re all learning the same things and getting acclimated to the system all at the same time.”
Blacknall seemed, for three weeks, to not be a factor. Then, suddenly, he was.
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Two deep, spiraling passes came out of quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s hand against San Diego State and were pulled down by the sophomore, a 45-yarder in the first quarter that was also Blacknall’s first catch of the year, and a 46-yarder in the second quarter.
“The first one was a play that was specifically for me, it was designed for me,” said Blacknall. The second was a product of him beating his one-on-one matchup and presenting himself as the best available target.
The plays were exciting, from a crowd perspective — Penn State fans seem to dig the deep ball — and the fact that they occurred was good for Hackenberg, who broke 200 yards for the first time all season, and finished the game with 296 yards, 101 of which went to Blacknall on four passes.
They were important to Blacknall, too, because setting oneself apart from the pack, he said, is based on opportunity.
“When you get those opportunities, you may get one opportunity, you may get many, and you may, sometimes, unfortunately not get any opportunities,” he said. “But whatever opportunities you do have, it’s critical that you make those plays.
“And later on, after the game, when it’s all said and done, you’ll be able to know who took advantage of them and who didn’t.”
Capitalizing on opportunities is especially crucial to a guy to whom a “target drought” — like his absence of catches in the first three games of the season, or his four catches against Ohio State last season and notable lack of more than two receptions in any game prior and after — is nothing new.
“For me, I just learn to be patient,” Blacknall said. “Eventually, everything is going to fall into place. I just put my head down and keep working.”
Blacknall said the receivers all look at the strengths and weaknesses of their counterparts and “take some of each other’s game off each other.”
Godwin, with 19 catches for 283 yards and a touchdown, is thus far the favorite target of Hackenberg. Hamilton, with 14 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown, isn’t too far behind.
“Competition, any competition that comes along, (comes) with pressure,” said Hamilton on Wednesday’s teleconference, of the contest for catches. “You gotta go out there, you gotta keep making plays.
“And at the same time, you can’t have animosity for anybody else, because those are your teammates.”
Hamilton said that a player doesn’t want another player coming in and “doing things that you think you’re capable of doing” on the field. But still, if the competition is healthy, everyone benefits.
“At the same time, you go out there and try to play your game. And when you have other guys competing at a high level, that just brings your game up a whole 10 levels,” he said. Hamilton considers Blacknall, especially, to be one of his best friends on the team, and speaks highly of his attitude and work ethic. Hamilton and Blacknall both have spoken warmly of Godwin as well, citing his willingness to learn, and then share his knowledge with others.
Camaraderie alongside competition is often a rarity, but Hamilton said that not only does it exist among the receivers, but it’s benefited the position group.
“You know, you got these guys who are behind you, in front of you, or probably on the same level as you. And these guys are, each day, going to work, and fighting for the same position, and getting better. And in my opinion, everyone’s getting better, as far as whether you start or you don’t start, at the end of the day, you’re working as hard as that guy to your left or right.”