Blue White Illustrated

September 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 5 7 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M Defensive lineman T.A. Cunningham chose Penn State after a rocky recruiting process. He's getting set to play for his fourth school in four years, and we're factoring that instability into the profile below. STRENGTHS Frame/length: Cunningham is able to get his hands into passing lanes and bat down throws. He has an ideal body type for a de- fensive tackle. In addition to his length, he's thickly built and naturally big, with a strong lower body, despite not having been in the same weight training program two years in a row. Athleticism/first step: Cunningham isn't just big; he can move, too. He's a dynamic athlete who can surprise blockers by getting out of the gate quickly and with good form. Double teams: While being quick enough to change gaps, Cunningham shows a knack for clogging up double teams and preventing the climbing offensive lineman from disengaging. AREAS OF DEVELOPMENT Football awareness: All of the moving that Cunningham has done in his career has stunted his growth. He lacks consistent technique and hasn't had a chance to pick up much past the fundamentals of his position. Strength/pad level: His pad level is good for his height, but it could improve from a down-to-down aspect. When he gets tired, he stands up to fight off blocks instead of keeping himself low and using his size and length to disengage. Change of direction: Cunningham has dif- ficulty chasing plays down once they break into the flat. He's a big, linear player, not a multi-positional talent. PROJECTION One-technique defensive tackle: By pri- oritizing versatility, coaches can reduce the number of misses in a given class, but it's also OK to bring in a few players who fit very specific roles. Cunningham is a nose tackle, pure and simple. Penn State needs to develop his physical and mental skills, but it's clear he has the potential to be a dominant run-stuffer. — Thomas Frank Carr F our-star defensive tackle T.A. Cun- ningham is still months away from signing his letter of intent, but he's already a well-traveled football player. Cunningham, who verbally committed to Penn State on July 23, began his high school career in his native Georgia, start- ing out at Providence Christian Academy before moving on to Johns Creek (Ga.) High, where he enjoyed a breakout soph- omore season with 66 tackles and 7 sacks. He then moved to the Los Angeles area last summer, only to be ruled ineligible by the California Interscholastic Federation. That ruling was reversed in October, and Cunningham was able to play in seven games for Los Alamitos High. Although he finished with only 17 tackles and 5 quarterback hurries, he made a strong impression on his coaches. Los Alami- tos coach Ray Fenton told The Orange County Register, "He's such a great kid and he's an outstanding leader." Fenton won't get to reap the benefits of having him on his roster for a full season, because Cunningham has returned to the Southeast this year and will attend Miami Central. One constant in Cunningham's football career has been Penn State's interest. The Nittany Lions extended an offer in August 2021 and stayed in constant contact. Penn State, Miami, South Carolina and Ohio State welcomed him to their cam- puses in the spring, but Cunningham's only official visit was to PSU in June, an indication that James Franklin's team was the leader. That assumption proved ac- curate when Cunningham announced his decision. "What set Penn State apart was just the people," he said. "I've been getting recruited by Coach Franklin and their staff … since pretty much my freshman year. They've been there from the jump, and they've stayed consistent with ev- erything. "They were very persistent and made sure that I knew how important I was to them, how much they believed in me and my ability. Even with some recent drop- offs, with everything with the CIF, dealing with injuries and things like that, they saw past it. I really just see Penn State as a genuine program that likes me as more than a football player." The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Cunning- ham totaled more than 50 scholarship of- fers dating back to his freshman season. He also visited more than 20 schools. In addition to his four-star grade in the On3 Industry Ranking, he's listed as the No. 257 overall prospect, No. 28 defensive lineman and No. 37 player in Florida for the 2024 class. "I'm just happy to be done with the process," Cunningham said following his commitment. "It's been a roller coaster of emotions and different things. I'm happy and relieved to have it over with. "My path was a little less traditional than some others. You have juniors and seniors still receiving offers. Most of my offers came early from all the visits and camps that I went to early on. I'm pretty familiar with the process. "It's all been a blessing, but every- thing has to come to an end, and I'm ready for the next chapter of my life, where I can just get down to business, get ready to work and just have a stable environment." ■ Talented Lineman Set To Elevate Defensive Front RYA N S N Y D E R | R YA N. S N Y D E R @ O N 3 . C O M COMMITMENT PROFILE T.A. CUNNINGHAM Cunningham visited Miami, South Carolina and Ohio State this past spring but ultimately chose Penn State in July. PHOTO COURTESY CUNNINGHAM FAMILY P L A Y E R E V A L U A T I O N

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