Blue White Illustrated

June-July 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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6 J U N E / J U L Y 2 0 2 2 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M S ean Clifford is in on the joke. Fielding questions from report- ers following the Blue-White Game on April 23, Penn State's super senior quarterback made reference to the "100 years" he's spent on campus. In another media scrum midway through Penn State's spring period, Clifford cracked jokes about the differ- ent ways his younger teammates com- municate with him. "When you get 18-, 19-year-old kids in here, it's my job to kind of be that leader, but also connect with them," Clifford said. "It's a different generation, it really is. When I asked, 'Hey, what's your number,' they're like, 'Let me get your Snapchat.' "Is this how we communicate nowa- days? Send me an email or something." Whether he corresponds with them via messenger pigeon, Pony Express or TikTok, Clifford has a pair of very im- portant true freshmen firmly under his wing. Drew Allar — a five-star prospect ac- cording to the On3 Consensus — and fellow early enrollee Beau Pribula both spent this winter and spring adjusting to the realities of playing quarterback at a Big Ten institution. And, while Penn State fans will often derisively point out the length of Clif- ford's tenure in Happy Valley, the reality is that the situation in the Nittany Lions' quarterback room couldn't have worked out much better. The students have an experienced teacher, and the value of such a thing can't be understated. "I thought he was tremendous," Penn State head coach James Franklin said of Clifford's work with the freshman quar- terbacks. "And then what's great is you hear that from the young quarterbacks, but then I see the Pribulas and I see the Allars — mom and dad — and they talk about their sons talking about how great Sean was with them all spring." Following a pair of largely unsuccess- ful seasons in 2020 and 2021, Clifford's decision to return for a sixth year and a fourth season as the team's starter certainly was not met with unanimous approval. On the heels of an excellent start to the 2021 campaign, Clifford's produc- tion diminished as the season wore on, culminating with a 14-for-32, two-in- terception showing in the Outback Bowl against Arkansas. It was a downturn influenced by an injury he suffered in a loss at Iowa in Oc- tober, Clifford acknowledged. Still, Penn State fans would be forgiven should they feel uninspired about the prospect of a fourth season with the Ohio native at the helm of the offense. Allar's arrival only fueled that fire. But the relationship has been presented as a symbiotic one. Clifford's presence provided the per- fect environment for Allar and Pribula to walk into. There is no instant demand for either of them to perform. In fact, they both seemed to have been behind redshirt freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux in the spring football pecking order. For Allar in particular, Clifford is something of a pressure release valve. Allar's experience can be normal — or as close to normal as you can get if you're an uber-talented young quarterback. Of the 20 quarterbacks who ranked as one of the top two signal-callers in their recruiting class over the past 10 years, only three have played right off the bat. More than any other position on the field, quarterback values experience as currency. For Allar and Pribula, Clif- ford's lessons should pay dividends. "It's just reps," Clifford said. "They're all talented, but it's just that they haven't played in a lot of games, and col- lege football is just a little different. But it's not that they don't know. It's more so what they haven't seen in the game yet." Clifford explained that learning the signals can be like learning a new lan- guage for young quarterbacks — and for all the other first-year players on of- fense. "We had like 500 or maybe 600 sig- nals [last season]," Clifford said. "We literally have a dictionary of words. So, it's [a matter of] getting in the playbook, making sure you know what those things mean." For his part, Clifford flourished this spring, acknowledging that he feels fresh and recovered from what he de- scribed as a "brutal" injury against the Hawkeyes last October. Thriving in his duties as a tutor, he also put together what Franklin described as the best spring of his Penn State career. "We do daily data, and then I get a second sheet with cumulative data," Franklin said. "So, it's what your eyes tell you, what your experience tells you. And then you have the data to back it up to make sure your eyes and experience are driving you and leading you in the right direction." All the evidence suggested that Clif- ford was excelling this spring, and in do- ing so, he was setting Penn State up for success not just in the 2022 season but in the years to come when it's time for someone else to take the reins. ■ O P I N I O N DAVID ECKERT davidecker Drew Allar (above) and his fellow freshman quarter- back, Beau Pribula, had a chance to learn from veteran Sean Clifford throughout spring practice. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL For PSU's Quarterbacks, Long-Term Success Is The Goal JUDGMENT CALL

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