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Penn State prospect Jake Pinegar aims to ‘step up’ at kicker
Penn State must replace a pair of scholarship kickers on its roster following the departure of highly productive starter Tyler Davis and perceived heir apparent Alex Barbir, who left the program following his redshirt freshman season. The Nittany Lions, underway with spring practice, are taking a close look at walk-on kicker Carson Landis and could consider using All-Big Ten punter Blake Gillikin in a variety of roles.
“[Landis has] an unbelievable opportunity,” Penn State coach James Franklin said last week. “We don’t have a whole lot of guys on campus. I think you guys saw our approach in the recruiting process at that position.”
Landis, who walked on to the team as a freshman in 2017, was an impressive high school performer in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. He’ll see practice dynamics evolve this summer when Nittany Lions signee Jake Pinegar arrives on campus.
Penn State also will add walk-on specialists, but it’s Pinegar who already warrants a spotlight from fans. Anytime a kicker or punter secures a scholarship slot, especially in the kind of celebrated recruiting class Franklin signed this winter, plenty of folks want to know what the prospect will do to validate it.
Pinegar, an outstanding athlete who also starred at receiver and defensive back during a successful prep career in Ankeny, Iowa, plans to enter the competition immediately upon his enrollment in June. His sights are set on field goal and kickoff duties.
“They are just really eager for me to come, start to get to work and compete for that starting role on both jobs,” he told Land of 10.
Still, Landis has a head start.
“He’s going to get a bunch of reps in [spring] camp,” Franklin said. “He shows flashes of being really good. So this spring is going to be important for him to show the consistency aspect, the consistency really, and the accuracy. The consistency in him hitting his sweet spot so he can drive the ball as far and as strong as he wants to.”
Regardless of how consistent Landis proves to be during these coming weeks, and in front of a Beaver Stadium crowd at the Blue-White Game, Pinegar should receive significant looks this summer. Considered the No. 6 kicker recruit in the 247Sports 2018 composite rankings, he flashes elite long-distance range.
But the ability to boot a 50-plus yard field goal doesn’t exactly balance things out if a kicker can’t connect on a high percentage of attempts from shorter range, too.
Davis, it’s worth noting, converted all 144 extra-point attempts he was tasked with at Penn State. The 2017 Nittany Lions regular season, which fell four points shy of an unbeaten run, served further notice of the fine line that separates College Football Playoff participants and those left on that doorstep.
The presence, or lack, of a scholarship in this impending competition won’t outweigh the importance of steadiness. Pinegar will need to win the job on merit.
“I think the biggest thing for a high school player trying to transition into the Big Ten and football at this level is the consistency aspect,” Franklin said.
The battle for kickoff responsibilities also feature more complexities than the average fan might expect. Franklin referred to Penn State as a “distributional kick team” that attempts to “pin people in certain portions of the field,” and those are nuances a newcomer must learn and value.
How Pinegar fares throughout these initial challenges in Happy Valley is among the more underrated aspects of a promising freshman class.
“It’s going to be an open competition just like every other position, but they are looking for me to step up,” Pinegar said.
This offseason, focus on positional battles has predictably shifted elsewhere. But during the late stages of tight games in 2018, rest assured Penn State’s abilities at kicker will be a prominent topic of discussion.
Nittany Lions impress OL EJ Ndoma-Ogar during campus visit
Coveted offensive lineman EJ Ndoma-Ogar earned a Penn State scholarship offer midway through his junior season at Allen (Texas) High School. The 4-star recruit showed budding mutual interest last weekend by traveling to Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions welcomed a quality collection of high school talent to town Saturday for a junior day event, and Ndoma-Ogar was among headliners. An Oct. 5 offer from the program instantly piqued his interest, setting the stage for an eventual visit.
“I have a lot of admiration for the Penn State program,” Ndoma-Ogar told Land of 10 in October. “Coach Franklin came in and continued the efforts to improve the culture and reputation of the program. … The Penn State offer stands out because of the long history and tradition of the program. There is an excellence that is expected by the players that wear or have worn that uniform. I am excited about learning more and building the relationship with the staff and players.”
This 6-foot-3, 310-pound prospect, considered the No. 9 guard and a top-200 overall talent in 247Sports 2019 composite rankings, took advantage of an opportunity to do just that on Saturday. He came away impressed after spending time in State College, according to Blue-White Illustrated’s Ryan Snyder.
“Overall, the visit went extremely well,” Ndoma-Ogar told Snyder. “I spent time with Coach Franklin, [offensive line coach Matt] Limegrover and several other members of the staff.”
Ndoma-Ogar, who previously attended IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) alongside Nittany Lions receiver KJ Hamler, was able to tour athletic and academic facilities, and he ventured onto the field for Penn State’s first contact sessions of spring practice. He has been quite active on the recruiting trail during recent months, and a strong impression seemed imperative for the Nittany Lions to push for long-term contention.
Penn State appears to have accomplished that goal, as Ndoma-Ogar left campus with plenty to ponder.
“It’s a place I can definitely see myself attending for the four to five years I’m in college,” he told Snyder.
His list of collegiate options includes more than 40 universities. Watch Ndoma-Ogar’s junior-season highlights here:
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