Season has its ups and downs
By Thomas Schlarp
For the Mirror
UNIVERSITY PARK — To say Saeed Blacknall has had a roller coaster career at Penn State would be a massive understatement.
From six catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship, to being suspended for the ensuing Rose Bowl, the senior wideout has been all or nothing at times.
With his big performance to end his junior season, expectations were high entering 2017. Expectations that he has ultimately failed to meet, not recording a single catch until the third game of this season against Georgia State that included a 35-yarder for backup quarterback Tommy Stevens’ first career touchdown pass.
“I look back and see how (the big plays) have added up,” Blacknall said. “I didn’t have the production that everyone else had. It’s just one of those things where I stay focused with it. That is the hardest part, just staying with it.”
Since that touchdown pass in the season’s third week, Blacknall has recorded only one catch in each game except for the Northwestern matchup.
In Evanston, Blacknall’s roller coaster reached another peak as he led all receivers in the game with four catches for 74 yards.
Through all of his highs and lows, Blacknall has remained cool and composed, not letting his frustration show.
“I just know on the sideline that I’ve got Trace in my ear telling me to just stay with it,” Blacknall said. “Basically I’ve just been trusting the process all four years I was here. It’s one of those things where I’m just ready to take advantage of a shot.”
While Blacknall has had to watch teammates like DeaSean Hamilton set records for most receptions in program history, the receiver maintained an upbeat attitude at practice and games rather than become a locker room distraction.
“Just working and staying after practice everyday,” Blacknall said. “It’s just about continuing to make forward steps in my game. I wouldn’t stop working just because I’m not getting the passes on the field.”
Coming off a stretch of three straight games with only one reception, perhaps it’s the perfect time for Blacknall to have a breakout game against Rutgers and set the Nittany Lions back on their winning way.
“Saeed has had a really good career,” James Franklin said. He’s a six-foot-two guy that can flat out run. Whenever he’s able to get up in space, he’s got a chance to turn it into a big play. We’re going to need that from him. Saeed has had a really good career for us, and I think he’s going to finish out the season strong.”
For the senior wideout from Manalapan, New Jersey, a game against Rutgers brings back a powerful feeling of nostalgia for Blacknall.
“It feels like a throwback,” Blacknall said. “It feels like high school coming back. You know how they play, and they know how you play. It’s cool to be a part in.”
Blacknall, who was originally a Rutgers commit with Saquon Barkley before changing to Penn State on signing day, is familiar with many of the players on the roster and happy with his choice of schools.
“We joke around about it,” Blacknall said. “I told (Saquon) that Rutgers is 25 minutes from my front door. I joke and say that he would have been right there with me in Scarlet Knight Red. I tell him that it’s a good thing we came here because if you look back and see how (Rutgers) turned out, (Penn State) was obviously the best choice. “