Stevens returning home with Penn State, ready to play

The last time Penn State came to Bloomington, Tommy Stevens was equal parts quarterback and ticket agent.

The Decatur Central product — and former IU commit — had the duty of securing tickets for scores of family members and friends who wished to make the short trip from Indianapolis for that November 2016 contest. By kickoff, Stevens rounded up approximately 125 tickets to give away, asking teammates to share their unused allotments of four per player.

“It was a mess putting those tickets in,” Stevens said.

The redshirt junior won’t be doing as much ticket herding ahead of Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. return trip to Indiana, with only 60 or so tickets requested for this weekend’s contest at Memorial Stadium.

But the Stevens supporters that do make the trip may be rewarded.

Stevens is the focus of a special offensive position created to make the most of his athleticism while Penn State’s all-time passing leader, senior Trace McSorley, plays out his eligibility.

He made only a brief cameo in that 2016 game in Bloomington, and playing time in general has been slow to come during his four seasons in Happy Valley. But even with McSorley entrenched at quarterback for a final season, Stevens has an avenue to the field this fall.

Stevens is included twice on Penn State’s weekly depth chart. He’s the backup at quarterback and the listed starter at “Lion,” an athlete role installed with him in mind.

“The Lion position is a hybrid between a quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end,” Stevens said. “Given the circumstance, it’s whatever is needed at the time. A utility-type player, I guess.”

Stevens has the ability to make an impact in that role — he threw three touchdown passes, caught two more and rushed for four scores a season ago — though this year he’s been slow to surface. An unspecified injury kept Stevens out of the first four games, before he made his season debut on Sept. 29 against Ohio State.

It didn’t go well. Stevens finished with minus-12 rushing yards in limited action, then didn’t see the field in last week’s loss to Michigan State.

“Last week, it was more of a scheme thing,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We didn’t think it made sense in that game. But we’ll look at it every single week to see if it gives us the best opportunity to keep the defense on their toes and keep the defense uncomfortable, whether he is a decoy or whether he is a runner or whether he is a thrower and whether he is a receiver. We look for those options each week.”

If Stevens is frustrated by the lack of playing time at Penn State — at quarterback or elsewhere — he’s not letting on. Stevens, who was verbally committed to IU during a five-month span in 2014 before flipping to Penn State, could’ve left State College as a graduate transfer during the offseason.

Ultimately, Stevens chose to return, and he’s the likely successor to McSorley in 2019.

“Once I made that decision that I wanted to stay here, that book was closed,” Stevens said. “It hasn’t been anything that’s crossed my mind. I’m happy with my decision to stay here.”

Although Stevens could be starting at a number of Power 5 schools right now, he says he’s enjoyed his experience in State College.

Even if it’s meant backing up McSorley.

“I think I’ve taken big strides as a person since I’ve been here at Penn State,” Stevens said. “I’ve learned to be patient. Everything’s not going to go exactly how we picture it every time that we do something. I still have faith in my abilities. I still have faith in my teammates’ abilities. So I’m not really frustrated by it. Obviously, I need to play better and I want to play better. I promise you there’s nobody that wants me to play better than myself, but it’s just part of the process. I have to continue to prepare and continue to just be ready to play.”

That includes this week at Indiana.

Stevens says he’s 100 percent recovered from the injury that limited him throughout the spring, summer and the first four games of this season, and he’s eager to make an impact.

Whether he plays in his “Lion” role this week or next week — or not — Stevens says he has no regrets.

“Given the circumstances I’ve been in, I’ve learned how to be patient, I’ve learned how to do things the right way, (and) I’ve learned the process,” Stevens said. “It’s helped me. It’s going to make me a better person in the long run.”

3 comments

  1. I think that he would have started last year and this year at IU. He could have produced big numbers and been a star. You can’t undo the past. PN St will recruit a guy like Penix for next year. Tommy will not be the starter. A poor decision, imho.

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