I don't think I could've been as patient as Tommy Stevens was to stay at Penn State
Tommy Stevens had every reason to leave Penn State.
As a redshirt freshman in 2016, he watched redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley win the starting quarterback job and turn into a superstar. Barring injury or an unexpected early departure to the NFL, Stevens was all but guaranteed to be McSorley’s backup until 2019.
If you told pretty much any 17-year-old quarterback recruit that he wouldn’t start until his redshirt senior season, he’d probably laugh you out of the room and look for a program with a more immediate need. Maybe Stevens would’ve been that kid back in 2015, when the Indianapolis native was set on becoming Christian Hackenberg’s successor.
Entering spring of 2018, Stevens found himself at a crossroads. Because he was eligible to graduate in May, he had a decision to make.
He could leave Penn State and become immediately eligible to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer, where he’d have plenty of suitors having flashed his potential in limited work as McSorley’s backup. Or he could continue to be Penn State’s ever-versatile “Lion” while staying on as the 2018 backup until it was his turn to finally start in his last season of eligibility in 2019.
Somehow, he chose to stay. We learned that on Wednesday when he told the local media his decision after exploring his options as a graduate transfer.
I say “somehow” because I have no idea how Stevens continues to remain so patient at Penn State.
Stevens is extremely rare in this era of college football, and surely Penn State fans appreciate him for that. It’s one thing to be willing to pick up a clipboard and back up a superstar for a couple years. It’s another thing to be willing to pick up a new position all while still fulfilling the under-appreciated duties that come with being a backup quarterback for four years.
It’s no wonder why Penn State fans/players/coaches were so concerned about the possibility of Stevens transferring.
“Wherever I went — if I was on campus eating, if I was just walking to class if I was doing whatever — there was always somebody there saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? Are you leaving or staying?'” Stevens said via 247sports. “But it wasn’t just that. People were saying, ‘Hey, wish you the best.'”
Lord knows there would’ve been plenty of places in the B1G alone where he’d be the favorite to win the starting job in 2018. He could’ve played close to home at Indiana, or perhaps programs like Minnesota, Nebraska and Rutgers would’ve made Stevens their immediate starter.
Remember, we’re talking about a guy who makes plays, regardless of where he is on the field. Besides his 48 career carries for 388 yards (8.1 yards per carry) and 4 rushing touchdowns, Stevens scored on nine of his 90 career touches (10 percent). In a much larger sample size, Heisman Trophy winner and future first-round pick Baker Mayfield scored on 12.4 percent of his career touches (Tim Tebow scored on 9.4 percent of his touches as Florida’s red-zone quarterback in his true freshman season).
More importantly, when Stevens enters a game at quarterback, there’s not really a noticeable drop off. That’s not to say Stevens would be putting up McSorley-like numbers as the starter, but by this point, Stevens knows the system well enough to operate it smoothly and make plays like a starter.
That’s one of the big reasons that Stevens chose to finish his career in State College. He put three years of his life into learning Penn State’s offense. He showed in 2017 that he’s capable of leading this unit, and even better, he earned the respect of his teammates.
Guys like receiver DeAndre Thompkins said he loves Stevens “like a best friend” while linebacker Koa Farmer said that if Stevens is staying “it’s a big party.”
Let me remind you again — we’re talking about a second-string quarterback without a career start.
But, as anyone in that locker room will tell you, Stevens’ impact goes far beyond his place on the depth chart. Besides, he is No. 1 at the “Lion” position. James Franklin figures to use Stevens much more out of that package. I mean, how many teams can line up their No. 2 quarterback in the slot, run him in motion and watch him run past and plow through defenders for a touchdown?
We’re going to see plenty of that in 2018. One has to think that Stevens was promised a bigger role in this offense if he stayed. In the post-Saquon Barkley/Mike Gesicki/DaeSean Hamilton era, that shouldn’t be a problem.
In the post-McSorley era, that won’t be a problem either. It seems inevitable that Stevens will inherit the job once the All-B1G signal-caller finishes his storied college career. I mean, Stevens better have the job locked up. What more could you ask a kid to do to show that he’s worth it?
Stevens has earned every opportunity that he gets. It’s one thing to say you’re all about the team. It’s another to be all about the team.
That’s not to say that I blame a talented young quarterback who doesn’t want to wait until their senior year to start. Shoot, I’d probably transfer if I was in that scenario. But fortunately for Penn State, Stevens is far more patient and selfless than I am.
We don’t know just how close he was to leaving, just that he did the normal due-diligence of looking around at his options. Stevens had plenty of options, but none sounded better to him than riding it out at Penn State.
That’s definitely worth celebrating.