Penn State Football

Lift for Life highlights position battles, provides first look at freshmen

Penn State defensive tackle Curtis Cothran walks off with the farmers lift bars as he holds on longer than a teammate during Penn State football's 14th Annual Lift for Life on Saturday, July 16, 2016.
Penn State defensive tackle Curtis Cothran walks off with the farmers lift bars as he holds on longer than a teammate during Penn State football's 14th Annual Lift for Life on Saturday, July 16, 2016.

Yes, Penn State’s annual Lift for Life is a charity event, and a fun one at that.

But it’s also a helpful tool in putting together roster pieces before fall camp begins.

The team is about five weeks out from the start of its official preseason, the freshmen arrived last month and with the relatively lenient summer classroom demands, players have been able to spend as much time as they’ve needed in the weight room in preparation for the 2016 campaign.

In fact, strength coach Dwight Galt said after Saturday’s Lift for Life that the team now has 28 top-level athletes composing its “Tier 3” group as opposed to the nine it had after winter workouts.

“A little bit of it is because of the summer. … You’re only taking two classes so you have so much more time,” said Galt. “And it’s easy, so your conditioning in the summer is a totally different schematic as well. We thought that those older guys really needed to get in that top tier to get them healthy for camp.”

A few players have made important (and impressive) weight gains this summer — especially on the defensive line, where bulk is needed after the loss of three starters to the NFL. Defensive lineman Curtis Cothran checks in at 280 pounds after being 262 pounds in April, while defensive end Evan Schwan put on 15 pounds of muscle and Robert Windsor weighs over 300 pounds. Anchor defensive end Garrett Sickels said he got up to 266 pounds this summer. On the offensive line, Ryan Bates now weighs 306 pounds, according to Galt.

McSorley making moves

While staff and players alike (fairly) maintain that the quarterback battle has yet to be decided, redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley revealed that he has been tasked with getting together player-run practices for himself and a few of the team’s standout players.

NCAA regulations mandate that coaches can’t organize practices themselves at this point in the summer. So McSorley will meet with Galt for a rundown of “optional” workouts and seven-on-seven drills.

“I’ve kind of taken the reins with (Galt) on getting the format for those with him and how those run, and organizing guys to do film sessions and extra workouts outside of what we’ve done,” McSorley said. “We have a set time when those are going to happen. … We will lay out what we are going to do that day.”

McSorley said Galt won’t direct him, but instead ask him how he wants the practice to run and then help him organize the format.

The quarterback has been meeting with “guys like Malik (Golden), Jason (Cabinda) Brian (Gaia), DaeSean (Hamilton), Chris (Godwin),” all leadership players in each position, to incoporate what specifically their position groups would like to work on during these practices as well.

Sanders ‘is as advertised’

Freshman running back Miles Sanders arrived on campus June 25, and has seemingly made all the right moves since he did so.

The formerly-ranked No. 1 running back in the country (by 247 Sports composites) said in June that he “wanted to follow in the footsteps of Saquon Barkley” by immersing himself in the playbook, asking a lot of questions, and proving he could earn a key role in Joe Moorhead’s offense.

He was also the first name out of McSorley’s mouth when asked which freshmen had impressed the quarterback so far this summer.

“Miles has done a good job,” McSorley said. “He came in with the right mentality, really trying to work hard and submerse himself into the playbook. He’s been meeting with me and (quarterback) Tommy (Stevens) and just trying to get done as much as he can, do any other work that he can.”

According to Galt, while no incoming freshman can really ever be “ready” to play in their first year of Division I college football, Sanders has all the right tools thus far.

“He trained hard, he’s in good shape, so I’m just trying to get as much done as I can in five weeks,” said Galt. “I’m really happy with where he is. I think he’ll definitely be in a situation to help us if all the other football things come together.”

And Galt’s first impression of the young back?

“Whoa,” Galt said. “That was it. Whoa. He is as advertised.”

Jourdan Rodrigue: 814-231-4629, @JourdanRodrigue