Penn State Players' Press Conference 11/19/19
COURTESY OF PENN STATE ATHLETIC MEDIA RELATIONS DEPARTMENT
Pat Freiermuth | Tight End
Q. You told us last week that the top tight end award was something that was important to you. You weren't one of the eight semifinalists. Any reaction about that?
PF: Yeah, it's disappointing. I thought I did everything I could this year, so far up to this point, to prove that I'm one of the best tight ends in the country. An award doesn't define me, who I am as player. I think I've had a really good season so far. It is what it is, I can't control that now. My focus right now is on Ohio State, anything we can do to beat them, the season moving forward.
Q. You gained motivation from the thought of the award leading up to it, any different kind of motivation moving ahead?
PF: Yeah, I mean, obviously still motivated to win it. Obviously it's not going to be this year, it's going to be next year or the year after that. Yeah, if anything, it's just going to fuel me to play harder and faster, do what I need to do.
Q. James [Franklin] was saying before this game is going to be a heavyweight fight. Both teams are going to make plays. Does that change or impact your mentality at all?
PF: No. Obviously, Ohio State is a great team. They have athletes everywhere. We have athletes everywhere, too. I agree with what coach said. There's going to be some big plays on both sides of the ball made. We have to roll with the punches, hopefully at the end of the day come out on top.
Q. You mentioned your future and that award. You've garnered some interest because you had that interesting path with the five years. Are you planning on staying here? Is that even an option that you could - ?
PF: I haven't really thought about it, to be honest. I haven't talked about it with my parents or the coaching staff or anything about it. Something I'll actually think about after the season. Right now I'm focused on Ohio State and the season moving forward.
Q. The Ohio State defense, what has impressed you about them?
PF: There are athletes everywhere on the field, on the defense. Whenever they sub, bring in new personnel, they don't skip a beat. They're fast, explosive. They definitely have some strength everywhere on the field. Obviously Chase Young, great player. [Jeff] Okudah, their corner, is really impressive, too. Their linebackers are, too. We're going to have our hands full. We have athletes and playmakers all over the field. Hopefully we come and do what we need to do.
Q. You shared a recruiting class with Justin Fields for about six months. Now he's on the opposite sideline. Is it strange to look back, how recruiting works out, game of the year right now, he's on the opposite sideline?
PF: Definitely weird. I remember I was with Zach [Kuntz], we picked him up at the airport for the spring game. Obviously, he was planning on going to Penn State, he chose to go to Georgia. Now he's at Ohio State. It’s definitely weird playing against him. I think he was going to be part of this team. In the end, he had to do what's best for him. I haven't talked to him since, but I support his decision. Obviously he's having a great career so far.
Q. Do you remember a bit of a scramble in the recruiting class from the point where Justin decommitted to the point where Will [Levis] came to the campus and committed? Was it a gray area wondering who was going to take on that role in the class?
PF: To be honest, I don't really remember. I mean, yeah, I don't really remember. It was a long time ago.
Q. Regardless of whatever you're doing in your future, do you know if you're draft eligible next year? They said on the [Indiana] broadcast a few times, they were under the impression you were. Do you have a baseline understanding of where you are on that?
PF: Yeah, I know I am. Like I said before, I haven't really thought about it at all. Haven't talked to my parents or the coaching staff, anything like that. Again, I'm not focused on that. I do know that I am.
Q. For how well you played against Ohio State last year, how much does that help, early in your career, to have one of those confidence booster games?
PF: Ohio State is probably one of the best programs if not the best in the country. Obviously, having my first start in the white out, having a good game like I did, definitely helped my confidence. But that was last year. Hopefully, I mean, I've grown as a player, same as this team. Hopefully I can come out this year and I can play well, the team can play well, see where it ends up.
Q. How much pride do you take in your blocking? I don't know if you can judge this, but do you think that's something that is overlooked when people are judging tight ends at this point?
PF: Yeah, obviously I take great pride in my blocking, like I've said a lot of times. I think I've done a great job this year at the point of attack, moving dudes off the line of scrimmage. I do think it's an overlooked part of the tight end. Tight ends that can make plays in the passing game, that's looked at a bunch. But I do think, I mean, when you look at NFL tight ends, they are asked to block most of the time, too. I think I take great pride in that. Continue to do what I'm going to do in the run game.
Q. Can you speak to what Nick Bowers' increased opportunity has added to the offense, how much pride you had in the late-game drive?
PF: Yeah, it was a special drive to be a part of. It was nine minutes. A lot of split flow. Definitely a lot of big blocks. I mean, me and Nick [Bowers] take great pride in that. It's also great having two tight ends to rely on in the run game and in the pass game. Nick has done a great job in both so far this season. It's great to be on the field with one of my good friends, compete with each other in practice every single day to get better. We're not afraid to let each other know if we're lacking one day in practice, lacking on footwork in blocking. It's awesome to be able to see him on the field doing his thing. I'm happy with everything he's done so far. He's going to expect to have a big game just like I am against Ohio State.
Q. Your quarterback [Sean Clifford] said this morning he received death threats. Were you aware when it happened? Were you surprised by it?
PF: Yeah, I was aware when it happened. He talked to me about it for a little bit. I mean, at the end of the day you hate to see it, but it is what it is. Me and him obviously talked about it. Yeah, I don't think it affected him too much. I think he just kind of went off social media and didn't let it affect him. It's kind of cruel for people to do that when we're trying to put on for the university and make Penn State look good. It's not like we're trying to lose, know what I'm saying? Definitely upset when fans do that. It definitely hurts. I mean, kind of signed up for it, it is what it is.
Q. Sean [Clifford] told us on Saturday that he anticipated it was going to be the best week of preparation for this group. 48 hours or so, are you seeing that executed right now?
PF: Yeah, in the building yesterday, me specifically, I was in there for six hours watching film. I watched three games, four games, specific cut-ups of specific players on the defense. I think when I was in there, there was a lot of dudes watching film. That was even scout team players watching film on their offense or their defense to give us the best looks and pick up tendencies as to what they do. And that’s been all year, to be honest.
Justin Neff, you guys have seen me talk about him a lot, [Dan] Vasey and [Max] Chizmar, they do a great job of watching film on the opposing team's defense, so they can give us the best looks, play who they're representing in practice, how they play their tendencies. It's just awesome to have that buy-in from everyone knowing their role. I think it is like another game, just we're not going to do different things because it's Ohio State week. We're going to stay consistent and stick to our process. I do think the whole season guys are taking a lot of pride in watching film and implementing that on scout teams in our preparation.
Q. Has an opposing defender jumped off the tape like Chase Young does? What makes him a dynamic threat to deal with?
PF: I probably haven't seen watching film another dude like Chase [Young]. Obviously Chase Winovich maybe. Chase Young is a great player. He just jumps out, he's so physical. Physically dominant. He just rushes the passer really well. He stops the run really well. Just an athlete out there. They like to move him around a little bit, kind of put him in mismatches. We just got to be on our A-game, identify him wherever he is on the field just so he can't wreck our game plan.
Q. We asked Coach Franklin about his 'elite 'comment last year. What do you remember about that? How did you take that message last year?
PF: Last year personally I completely agree with him. We weren't up to that game. We were letting things slide. We weren't doing things like how we do things now. I think ever since that comment, whatever it was, when he made it, I think the team and the whole program really took great pride in that. That's when the 1-0 mentality started coming in, buying into it. You could see that in the off-season. Me personally, I took that comment that he made with great pride and wanted to bring this program back to its elite status.
Shaka Toney | Defensive End
Q. When you sat down and you watched some initial film of Ohio State, what were your first impressions? ST: Physicality, speed, real good understanding of their scheme. They do what they do and they do it very well. Great athletes, well-coached, well-disciplined.
Q. Are there any concerns with this pass-rush? Can you evaluate how that's progressed as the season has gone on? You have a lot of sacks, but it's top heavy against the two teams.
ST: If you watch the film, see a lot of people, they're getting rid of the ball fast. A lot of mass protection. Their teams aren't letting us just rush, meet the defensive ends, D-line. They're not letting us tee off on their quarterback. They're coming into the game with a plan a scheme, thing like that. I could tell you firsthand a lot of the O-linemen I watched on film, I'll come into the game and get something entirely different from their sets, the time they're punching it out of their hands. Things kind of spring up on us. We're making plays as we make them. We're going to keep working hard. Our group, we done a lot of things well, a lot of things to work on, we're going to keep getting better.
Q. From your perspective, what excites you about this week's matchup?
ST: Just another opportunity to play football. I know a lot of people that don't make it to this level. My friends, I have friends that have passed away, friends that have been murdered, things like that. I'm just grateful for another opportunity to play again.
Q. What challenges do they pose?
ST: Always a challenge to go on the road and win games. Winning isn't easy. If it was, everybody would do it. You got to come in and be prepared. You got to work hard throughout the week. Got to do whatever you have to do to make sure you can be 1-0 on Saturday.
Q. In preparing for this game, how unique of a talent is Justin Fields? Did you get to meet him at all when was a recruit committed to Penn State?
ST: No, I didn't have a chance to know him. Other guys that are in his age range, as far as his class, told me he's a really good guy. He didn't come here. He made a decision for himself. I leave no player at fault for that. Every program is different. You need to find the best fit for you. Can't wait to meet him, shake his hand. I heard he's a pretty swell guy. I feel real bad for him for what he went through at Georgia, if that was true. Nobody deserves to go through that.
Q. You said shake his hand. I'm sure you also want to hit him. How do you counter a player who has the ability to do so much?
ST: He's special, of course. We don't single out any other player more than anybody else as far as the D-line. Most quarterbacks you're going to play in the Big Ten are going to be good or great, do something well. You just got to approach them the right way. You can't let him get out the pocket, things like that. You have to do your job as a defensive end. He makes plays with his arm and his legs, so we have to do whatever we have to do to try to keep him in check.
Q. One of your offensive teammates, Pat Freiermuth, was not named a Mackey Award semifinalist. Any reaction?
ST: I think individual awards are always nice. I'm pretty sure if we go 1-0 this week, he's going to forget all about that awards list. Those things, they can be biased. Sometimes people can get overlooked. It doesn't always tell the full story. Pat is hard working. If he keeps doing what he's doing, he's in the NFL, first-round guy, he's not going to be thinking about awards he missed out on. He's going to think about the times he had here, just like the rest of us. Individual accolades are okay, but championships, enjoying time with your brothers mean the world to you.
Q. Do you look forward to games that are going to be harder?
ST: I don't look at no game no bigger or no smaller than any other. You see upsets. You see people get blown out. You see anything can happen in college football. If you think one team is so much better than the other, it's just a bad approach. We say 1-0 because that truly means something to us. Anybody can get beat. Doesn't matter how much time you have or what you're doing. Every dog has his day. Everybody has a great approach to the game. You have to treat everybody with the same amount of respect.
Q. James Franklin was saying this is going to be a heavyweight fight. Do you have any memories of any games during your college or high school career, of a true heavyweight fight?
ST: First game come to mind is my city championship against Archbishop Wood my senior year. Game came down to the wire. Anthony Russo, one of my Philly guys, I know he's doing well at Temple, threw a game sealing pick. I was in his face, he threw it to my running back/linebacker. I think about the Iowa game when we went to Iowa the first time. That was just huge. I was a freshman at that time. I probably played four, maybe five snaps, but I just remember the emotion from it. The Big Ten Championship that we won, the Rose Bowl. All those games. Football truly is a momentum sport. If you don't react to the momentum the right way, you can get drowned out. People can get down in a hole and just let the game go. You have a team like we watched Oklahoma come back against Baylor, you just got to keep fighting. If the momentum isn't swinging your way, you got to counter back, throw a hook, jab, something, make sure you never stop fighting.
Q. Coach mentioned his 'great to elite' comment from last year. It went viral. What do you remember about the comment, what he said that night about taking the next step?
ST: I remember the comment. I just remember how it came off, but more what the message was. Being elite is truly something that is not easy to do. You're talking about being a top four team in the country to get to the playoffs, you're talking about being the last team standing to win a championship. You have to be elite. Little things do matter. You got to find a way every single day to beat elite teams like Ohio State, like Clemson, like Alabama. You can't say you want to be elite and not be willing to put the work in and do it. You have to come out every single day from January to December with an approach that you're going to be the best every single day. I think our team has responded well since that game. I think we came out the right way this year. We've had a lot of success. Our year isn't done. I think we are making those steps of becoming an elite team.
Q. Are you still close with Deion Barnes?
ST: Yes. We were just speaking on Monday.
Q. What was it about? Can I ask?
ST: Talking about film. Talking about things that I've done this year, things I haven't done well. I believe in using all research at my hands. I'll ask a guy on the street, a homeless man, about how he played defensive end, technique, doesn't matter to me. I love football, love to learn. Any of you guys, doesn't matter, I'm always open to talk about football. You never can settle for learning. I think it's a huge impact on being able by using the resources at your disposal.
Q. Give us a progress report on true freshman, Adisa Isaac.
ST: Adisa Isaac is going to be a first-round pick. That guy is coachable coachable. I wish I had that level of maturity at his age. It's crazy. He just turned 18. We always tease him, call him Young Deese, a pup. He doesn’t talk much. He's a dream freshman. Don't get in trouble, asks a lot of questions. He knows his place. He's always around. He's a sponge. The things that he's doing now, I'm doing at this age now. It's just really impressive. I believe I already told people, you can come out here and he'll ask me on a pass-rush what should I do. I can say dive, three burpees, a jumping jack, spin, get a sack, he'll do it exactly the way I said it. No attitude. Comes from a great family home. I know he's going to be special. Y'all can quote me in a few years when he's getting ready to be a top pick in the NFL. He's going to be special. Promise you that.
Q. You mentioned you like to get advice from anywhere. Where is maybe the source of advice that's meant a lot to you that maybe you didn't expect? What is the most unlikely source of the best advice you've received?
ST: Give me a second to think back to that. I have an answer. My niece, my redshirt year - it's hard redshirting, a lot of people don't know - you can feel separated from the team, you can feel alone, you're not home any more, you don't want to do school, you just want to go back to being a man at high school. My niece was younger at that time. One Thanksgiving, finally able to come home, haven't seen her in a long time. She seen I was down. Apparently she heard my mom over the phone with my sister talking about how I was feeling. She came and gave me a hug and told me, No matter what you have to do, just get it done, know we'll support you. It was so special to me. My niece, I treat her like she's my best friend. My sister gets mad at me because the way I talk to her sometimes. It comes off because I treat her like a boy. I don't mean to. That's the dynamic of our relationship. I just live with that every single day. You got to get done what you have to get done. Sometimes it's going to be snowing outside, you got to shovel your car just to get to work. You got to get it done. Whatever you have to do, it's doable. Nothing is put on your plate that you can't handle. I'm a firm believer in that.
Q. 10 years younger than you or?
ST: She would have been about five.
Q. When did the love of the game start for you?
ST: Second year of little league football I fell in love. First year I hated it. I was smart. I've always understood football. I didn't always like it. My first year, I just refused to do things the way the coach wanted me to do it. I didn't understand why. I was one of those kids that always asked questions. My coach never really explained it to me. He told me, I want you to come back and play again next year. I came back and played for the same weight class. He started to teach me, unveil parts of the game to me. I've just been in love ever since, anything that has to do with football. I open my phone, listening to sports podcasts, things talked about around the league. I love football. I could sit all day and just watch football, not even notice. Second year I started to make plays. I think that's when it became more fun for me. At a young age, I definitely, definitely realized this game is the one for me.
Q. Is that kind of how you and John Reid started bonding?
ST: John [Reid] is a Philly guy. Sorry to the Jersey people. John is claimed by all Philadelphians, especially athletes. Me and John actually bonded over video games first, then football. He'll tell you, he likes to watch his football, Penn State games, things about him, people that just play corner. Me, I like to watch the entire sport from the quarterback to the safety to the coach. John is position orientated. Our conversations like the IQ level of it, I learn so much from him from outside of the front seven. Learning the back four helps you, too. You'll see if it's man-to-man, this ball might be coming out early because maybe the guy get beat on the slant route. If I know my corner got a deep third, if it's a goal route, I got a little bit more time, or the quarterback might hit a 1-2-3 go because it's cover two, and I gotta get my hands up. John has elevated my knowledge of what's going on around me more than what's going on outside the front seven.
Q. Did John Reid help you with your computer?
ST: He put to lot into the computer. I purchased everything - for the NCAA, I paid for it with my own money. John is a computer whiz. He helped me learn different things that I can put in there, like a coolant, my mouse, how I can recalibrate it. John is smart, smart. Someone you want to have in your corner. Your TV break down, you don't know why, John somebody that come in, take it off, plug in three different things, next thing you know your TV is fine. That's my guy.