Penn State football: How many guys does it take to replace Jordan Stout? At least 5, so far.
Jordan Stout put the “foot” in “football” last year for Penn State, serving as the team’s kickoff man, place-kicker and punter. He did it so well, he’s now with the Baltimore Ravens after being the top punter taken in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Nittany Lions special teams coordinator Stacy Collins employs 4 specialists in his effort to replace the lost production from the Big Ten Punter of the Year. The quartet ranges from young to old, small to ginormous and unsung to highly-touted. They make for a good story. And so far, they’re getting the job done, with some special assistance from a non-kicking teammate.
Yes, it takes a village to replace Jordan Stout.
Let’s take a look at why that is so, and how Penn State is getting it done.
Why Stout was so stout
The stat that stood out most for Stout last season was his touchback percentage on kickoffs: 90.8%, best in the nation. Blasting the ball to the point of no return saves a lot of wear and tear on the coverage team.
Stout also dominated as a punter, maybe even more than Penn State fans realized. The Ravens took him in the fourth round, the earliest a punter had been taken in more than a decade. A nation’s best 4.65-second hang time led a long list of attributes the Ravens liked. Pro Football Focus graded Stout the top punter in the country.
At kicker, Stout couldn’t match his dominance elsewhere. He made 16-of-23 field goals and 34-of-36 extra points in 2021. But he does hold the school record with a 57-yard make in 2019, his first year as a Lion after transferring from Virginia Tech.
— Jordan Stout (@JORDANSTOUT92) April 7, 2020
Stout opened his pro career with 6 punts for a 48.5-yard average against the Jets last weekend. He’s not forgotten in Happy Valley, but he is gone.
New names and faces are giving Penn State a leg up now. You’ve probably already warmed to several of them. It seems introductions are in order.
Barney Amor, Cinderella-story punter
So far, he’s doing it better than Stout did. Barney Amor is averaging 47.45 yards on 11 punts to Stout’s 46.01. More importantly, he backspins the ball better than a young Tiger Woods at Augusta. He deserves the credit for the safety vs. Ohio after sticking this punt at the 1-yard line:
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 10, 2022
Amor hit pretty much the same punt against Purdue, but his gunners knocked the ball into the end zone for a touchback when they could have just let it be. This looks like skill, not luck. He’s put 5 punts inside the 20-yard line already. Only 1 of his boots has been returned, and that attempt netted 0 yards.
That’s pretty stout for a guy who gained 2 degrees but only 1 season of game experience during 4 years at FCS Colgate. He walked on for James Franklin last year, looking for a master’s degree and one more shot to play the game. Awarded a scholarship 3 weeks ago, the 6-1, 192-pound super senior from Doylestown, Pa., is living the dream.
Gabriel Nwosu, oversized kickoff man
When he’s on the field, 6-6, 268-pound Gabriel Nwosu doesn’t go unnoticed. So far, he splitting the kickoff job with a fellow redshirt freshman of slighter proportions. He’s listed as a punter, but that job seems to be taken at the moment.
Nwosu brings back memories of 5-10, 258-pound Penn State kicker Joey Julius, who gained cult-figure status in 2015-16 for a couple of big hits he made while covering his own kickoffs. Like Julius, Nwosu sports the #99 jersey and inspires double-takes from viewers when he trots onto the field.
— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) May 15, 2020
So far, Nwosu has only 4 touchbacks on 7 kickoffs, and hasn’t laid anybody out yet. But his career is just getting started. There’s time.
I just became aware of Penn State punter/kickoff specialist Gabriel Nwosu. Listed at a cool 6'6", 276 lb. pic.twitter.com/dqDoZJomfN
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 2, 2022
Sander Sahaydak, undersized HR hitter
The Laurel to Nwosu’s Hardy, Sander Sahaydak goes 6-0, 176. He was a 3-star recruit in the Lions’ 2021 class, and may be in line to succeed Jake Pinegar at kicker after this season.
In the meantime, he’s sharing kickoff duties and prepping for potential chances to be a hero.
Head coach James Franklin announced Tuesday that the youngster is his long field goal man, reprising a role Stout filled in 2019-20 before taking on all field goal attempts last year.
For attempts of 52+ yards, “we’re talking about game-winning field goals,” Franklin said Sahaydak will get the nod. Such a moment could arise a soon as this Saturday at Auburn.
Like Nwosu, Sahaydak has kicked off 7 times this season, with only 1 of them going for a touchback.
Jake Pinegar, loyal short-range kicker
Pinegar started from Day 1 on placements after committing to Penn State as a 3-star recruit in 2018. He attempted every field goal for the Lions in Trace McSorley’s final year, and he’s back in the primary role for Sean Clifford’s last go-round.
Rather than bolt when Stout took his job in training camp last summer, Pinegar stuck with his teammates and — for the first time as a Lion — waited his turn.
He’ll end his career as high as No. 2 in a couple of all-time PSU kicking stat categories, and top 10 in almost all. His best season came in 2019, when he went 11-of-12 on field goals. His career-long FG was 49 yards, and he’s connected 5 times from 40+ yards. His 71.7% success rate is decent by far from spectacular, and he’ll need to get on a roll after missing 3 of his last 5 dating to 2020. It’s certainly possible, considering he’s had streaks of 8 and 7 straight makes in his career.
He’s 1-for-2 this season, the miss coming from 42 yards out vs. Ohio. That kick was struck clean and had plenty of distance, missing just a smidge right. A clutch, game-winning field goal somewhere along the way this year would provide a nice denouement to the Iowan’s time in central Pennsylvania.
Dominic DeLuca, special tackler
A 2021 walk-on safety-turned-linebacker, Dominic DeLuca worked his way onto the field this year. Still listed at just 6-1, 209 pounds on PSU’s roster, the tough young man from northeast PA stands 5th on the team in tackles (7) thanks to 5 solo stops on kickoff coverage.
Now that Stout’s not booming balls through the end zone, Penn State needs a lunch-pail specialist like DeLuca. Purdue and Ohio combined to attempt 8 kickoff returns, and DeLuca made the tackle on 5 of them. Those returns averaged 15.75 yards, which makes PSU the 4th-best coverage team in the Big Ten so far.
— Matt Bufano (@MattBufano) September 2, 2022
DeLuca has been a great story since dominating the Blue-White Game in the spring, and #34 is likely to add more chapters in the years to come.