UNIVERSITY PARK - Last year, Maurice Evans gave opposing offensive lineman and offensive coordinators headaches as they considered ways of trying to stop the Penn State defensive end.
He finished second in the Big Ten Conference and sixth in the country in tackles for loss with 211/2 and third in the conference and eighth nationally in sacks with 121/2. He was also second in the conference with five forced fumbles.
Those are awesome numbers, especially for a first-year starter, but he set way higher goals prior to last season.
"I did aim for 24 sacks," Evans told stunned reporters at media day. "Yeah, I like to aim high. The guys were clowning me, but I aim high. I ended up with 121/2, and I'm just happy the way it turned out."
What are his goals this season? Maybe 30 sacks this year?
"I haven't even sat down and thought about it yet," Evans said. "I guess when it gets closet to the first game, that's when I'll start thinking about the goals. I'll just throw something on a piece of paper and stash it somewhere. At the end of the season, I'll just look at it and see how close I got."
Fellow defensive end Josh Gaines, who had 40 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks, is all right with Evans wrecking opposing offenses.
"I hope he gets more sacks," Gaines said. "Soon he'll start getting double-teamed, and it will open me up. I'm his biggest fan."
Coach Joe Paterno says Evans can perform better than last season.
"I think he'll have a good year," Paterno said. "He's been very, very good in preseason practice so far. But I needle him all the time about, 'Yeah, every once in a while you need a kick in the rear end,' and we go from there. But I like him. He's a good football player. He doesn't realize how good he can be."
"I just come out here and work hard every day and work on getting better than last year," Evans said. "There's always room for improvement. I'm not perfect. Nobody's perfect. Everybody around here knows I'm a humble guy. I don't really talk unless I'm on the field. When I'm on the field, you hear me all the time."
While Evans will probably be the target of many blocking schemes this season, defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu pointed to Gaines as the leader on the defensive line.
"Josh Gaines has helped us from Day 1 to now," Ogbu said. "Thank God he's here."
The line has needed Gaines, a senior 6-foot-1, 275-pounder, after fellow linemen Chris Baker and Phillip Taylor were kicked off the team before camp opened.
Baker, who is now at Hampton University, and Taylor were involved in off the field incidents, and their problems were documented in an Outside The Lines story on ESPN on the state of the Penn State program. They were booted off the team just days after that story aired.
The line depth took another hit this preseason when redshirt freshman Devon Still, who was drawing rave reviews from coaches and players, broke his leg. Last year, Still injured his knee and redshirted.
""I don't think our key losses have hurt us a bit," Ogbu said on media day. I think we're all ready to step up to the challenge and work hard this year.
We still have some young guys who can actually play this year. Big Brandon Ware and Devon Still are probably going to play this year. Kids like that are actually doing a good job right now stepping up."
The preseason depth chart had Evans and Gaines on the ends, redshirt sophomore Abe Koroma at left tackle and Ogbu at right tackle.
"I think we're definitely going to go eight to 10 guys [deep]," defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. "I think that's the way you've got to go to keep everybody fresh."
"We have the talent," Evans said. "We're aiming to have the number one D-line in the country. We're aiming to lead the country in tackles for losses and sacks. We took a blow when we lost Phil and Chris, but we've got depth. We'll be all right."
One guy the line will have this year, barring injury, is junior Jared Odrick, who was second on the depth chart behind Koroma. Odrick started seven of the first eight games before suffering two broken bones in his hand and dislocated his right ankle the next week.
"I gained some weight, and I think it's all good weight, really," the 6-5, 308-pound Odrick said. "All of our conditioning tests this summer I passed. All you can do is train hard and prepare for the season."
The Lions open the season at home Saturday against Coastal Carolina, and the line is chomping at the bit.
"The guys are ready," Gaines said. "They've been ready since Day 1. This defensive line is rare. I've never seen anything like the attitude they have. The young guys are amazing. We'll be all right this year."