Classes may have just been canceled, but it was back in the books for a bunch of Penn State newcomers last week.
After eight freshmen and two promotions arrived as early enrollments in January, the Nittany Lions welcomed their doors for five more freshmen and one graduate promotion when summer courses began May 16.
From now until the start of its first training session, scheduled for August, Penn State will enroll 12 other new faces, including 5-star defenseman Dani Dennis-Sutton and coveted Maryland transfer Demeioun Robinson.
Here’s a look at the May enrollments that could make an immediate difference in 2022.
Hunter Nourzad, Offensive Line, Redshirt Senior
Of Penn State’s biggest failings a season ago, offensive line performance tops the list.
The Nittany Lions was the most-sacked team in the Big Ten and ranked second-last in rushing yards per game in 2021 — two statistical categories that directly correlate to offensive line.
As spring training began, James Franklin found another problem in his offensive line space: depth. The number of scholars on Penn State’s roster this spring was so small that the team had to reformat its blue-and-white game.
That being said, Franklin and offensive line coach Phil Trautwein must have been thrilled when All-American Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad sauntered into town.
At 6ft 3 and 310lbs, Nourzad ended his career with the Big Red, starting 20 straight games in right tackles.
With both tackle positions likely to be taken by Caedan Wallace at right and Olu Fashanu at left, Nourzad’s future with the Nittany Lions could lie on the inside, likely at both sentries.
Competition is inevitable ahead of the season opener and Nourzad should be a key player for a Week 1 spot.
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Alex Bacchetta, punter, newbie
Losing Jordan Stout, a 2021 All-American, isn’t a bite-sized hole for Penn State as it composes its depth chart ahead of the fall.
With Stout now moving to the Baltimore Ravens to inevitably start at punter, the Nittany Lions must make decisions about which direction they want to take at the position.
Barney Amor and Gabriel Nwosu handled most of the reps at punters all spring, but with a highly touted freshman – Alex Bacchetta – enlisting last week, things could swing very quickly in the Penn State punter space.
According to Kohl’s Kicking, Bacchetta is the nation’s No. 1 pick for 2022 and no ordinary freshman special teamer.
The Atlanta, Georgia native, Bacchetta averaged 40.3 yards on 24 punts during his senior season (Stout averaged 44.8 yards throughout his career).
Bacchetta has probably as good a chance as any newcomer on the roster to start as early as Week 1.
Cristian Driver, defensive back/wide receiver, rookie
Penn State’s defensive back and wide receiver rooms are full as the team enters the fall. Still, when looking for early-game action, a newcomer stands out because he’s playing both.
Cristian Driver, the son of Green Bay Packers legend Donald Driver, wowed coaches before he came onto campus because he was willing to play where he was needed.
“We had initially offered Driver as a defender and he said he wanted to play wide out,” Franklin said in December, “then about halfway through the season he texted and said [he] would trust the coaches and be open minded and looking forward to playing on defence.
That readiness and potential versatility as both a full-back and defender could make Driver a contender for significant time on special teams early in the season.
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