STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Tommy Stevens was sitting at dinner with his girlfriend when a stranger approached the Penn State quarterback and asked him the question that has been on the minds of Nittany Lions fans all offseason. Would the versatile quarterback whom the team created a special “Lion” position for last season be a graduate transfer this offseason?
“Wherever I went. If I was on campus eating, if I was walking to class, if I was doing whatever, there was always somebody there like, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Are you staying or are you leaving?’ ” Stevens said Wednesday night after practice. He made up his mind last week to stay at Penn State and Wednesday shared the news with his teammates and the media. “People were like, ‘Hey, we hope you do what’s best.’ … It just shows how supportive this fan base is. It’s an incredible place, and I couldn’t be happier to be here.”
And Penn State couldn’t be happier to keep him.
Stevens said he met with offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne throughout the process and also said his family was upfront with James Franklin after the Fiesta Bowl about their desire to explore other options. Stevens said he met with other teams — and Franklin told him that if he found another place that was a perfect fit they’d support his decision — but ultimately that ideal fit was the one that was right in front of Stevens.
“We said, ‘Look, let’s talk about this, let’s explore this, but we don’t ever want you leaving unless it’s the right situation,” Franklin said Wednesday night. “If it’s the right situation for you and your family we’re going to be as supportive as you can possibly imagine. But if you don’t find the situation that just makes complete sense then you should come back because you know what you’re getting with us as coaches, you know what you’re getting with your teammates, you know the scheme and all these things. He’s earned so much respect from our team so, obviously, as a coach I am elated that Tommy is going to stay with us, but more so than that just how he handled the whole process. I’m real proud of him.”
Stevens said he felt he was bringing a lot of “unneeded attention” to himself and his teammates by trying to sort through the process. He said suiting potential graduate transfer options was worse than his initial recruitment — something that is tough to top considering the former Indiana standout once was committed to the Hoosiers and then flipped to Penn State late in the process after the Nittany Lions offered him a scholarship.
The move will continue to give Penn State’s offense an edge as Stevens showed last season he can run, throw and catch passes, all helping exploit defenses — especially in the red zone. When Stevens gathered his teammates Wednesday before practice to share his decision, he said teammates congratulated him on making up his mind. They then quickly shared their thoughts on social media.
Penn State’s coaches laid out for him how they plan to use him next season as well, he said. Stevens, who grew up playing safety, running back, quarterback, wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback under the guidance of his dad and uncles, is ready to see what is in store for him in this offense next season under Rahne.
“They told me, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re going to do if you do expect to stay,” Stevens said of the Penn State staff. “I guess I do expect an increased role [in the offense].”
There is a ways to go between now and then. In fact, Stevens appeared at practice Wednesday on a cart, his right foot in a boot. While the team disclosed no additional details about the injury, this spring has given him a rare chance to work on the mental side of his game, something that he said is the area he needs to grow the most. While that has made Sean Clifford the No. 2 quarterback this spring, Stevens said the mental reps are challenging him in a different way. Franklin said the quarterback situation this spring is a bit of a blessing in disguise as Clifford gets additional reps.
While teammates praised Stevens for his can-do attitude last season as he embraced his newly created position, he said the outpouring of support continues to remind him why he chose this school in the first place. Even Saquon Barkley, one of Stevens’ closest friends, was elated to hear Stevens was staying.
“I’m glad it’s over, and I’m glad I can stop being a distraction to my teammates,” he said. “I tried not to be. … We can just focus on football now, get back to work and start grinding for next season.”