Blue White Illustrated

May 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 21 of 67

2 2 M A Y 2 0 2 3 T he anticipation for Penn State's up- coming football season continues to build, with the Nittany Lions garnering attention from virtually all media outlets as College Football Play- off contenders. Much of the excitement stems from an offense that will feature some of the most promising young talent in the Big Ten, plus a future first-round NFL Draft pick at left tackle in fourth- year junior Olumuyiwa Fashanu. It's widely believed the Penn State of- fense will take a step forward with pre- sumed first-team quarterback choice Drew Allar at the helm, although the sophomore continues to battle with red- shirt freshman Beau Pribula this spring. What isn't as clear, however, is who will be catching passes in the fall. For all the buzz the Nittany Lions have generated, they need the members of a partially revamped wide receiver corps to step forward in the offseason. Of those players, the one receiving the most scru- tiny this spring has been KeAndre Lam- bert-Smith. Heading into his fourth season in the program, Lambert-Smith is viewed as someone who can push the team over the top this fall. Indeed, with so few proven pass catchers on the roster, the 6-foot-1, 184-pound junior will have to produce big numbers if the Lions are to reach their potential. A former four-star prospect from Maury High in Norfolk, Va., Lambert- Smith is one of Penn State's two return- ing receivers with at least 10 receptions last year, having hauled in 24 for 389 yards and 4 touchdowns. Lambert-Smith finished the year with a highlight-reel moment, catching an 88-yard touchdown pass in the Rose Bowl to help lift Penn State past Utah. Now, the challenge will be to build on the momentum he seized in Pasadena. In previous years, he wasn't able to do that. He has been an inconsistent pres- ence in his 36 career games to date, com- ing up with big catches at times, but dis- appearing at others. That must change for him to become the Nittany Lions' No. 1 receiver and raise both his profile and that of his team this fall. "I haven't done exactly what I wanted to in my career," Lambert-Smith con- ceded. "I've been waiting for opportu- nities like this. … I'm supposed to be a top guy in the country. I'm going to be a top guy in the country. I'm going to take full advantage of it." Taking The Next Step From an athletic standpoint, he has all the tools to be a high-level performer. Anyone who saw his dramatic moment in the Rose Bowl understands the kind of game-changing impact he can make. With the Lions facing third-and-4 at their own 12-yard line, Lambert-Smith started running a slant. Expecting the wideout to cross in front of him, Utah safety R.J. Hubert hesitated, leaning forward. Lambert-Smith then turned upfield and waited on quarterback Sean Clifford's pass. He barely had to break stride to catch the ball at midfield. Hu- bert was 5 yards behind him at that point with no chance of catching up. The result was the longest pass play in Rose Bowl history and the fourth-longest in Penn State history, and it sent the Lions on their way to a 35-21 victory. Penn State will need more moments like that in 2023. Luckily for offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, Lambert- Smith has been trending in the right di- rection. "He's shown all the signs in the off- season of wanting to take that next step, as have all the guys in that room," Yurcich said. "We're proud of the way he's been coming along. The desire that he has and the want-to that he has are exceptional. "If he just stays the course and con- tinues to do the little things that it takes to be great, all the things that are outside of practice, all the film study and all the playbook study, and taking notes, eating right, making sure you get the sleep, and still training hard in the weight room — all those things add up at the end of the day. He's taking a busi- nesslike approach. "I'm excited about him and what he brings to our offense," Yurcich added. "We're really looking forward to see- ing him progress throughout the rest of spring and in the fall camp, and then next year." LEVELING UP Plagued by inconsistency earlier in his career, wideout KeAndre Lambert-Smith knows his time has arrived G R E G P I C K E L | G R E G. P I C K E L @ O N 3 . C O M "I'm supposed to be a top guy in the country. I'm going to be a top guy in the country. I'm going to take full advantage of it." L A M B E R T - S M I T H W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M

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