PSU building solid pipeline to Blair County
Blair County is already well represented on the Penn State football team, and that could only continue to grow in the coming years.
Altoona’s Kevin Givens gets a lot of the attention, and rightfully so, as the redshirt sophomore defensive tackle appears to be on a path to having an excellent career for the Nittany Lions. He then could be on his way to an NFL career.
Hollidaysburg’s Zach Simpson, a redshirt sophomore, started at right guard in Saturday’s Blue-White Game and could get some opportunities on the offensive line this fall, either at guard or center. The preferred walk-on made an impact last year as he saw action in 12 games, mostly on kickoff return.
Central’s Alex Hoenstine has signed as a preferred walk-on to PSU. He had a stellar high school career as a running back but likely will be a receiver for the Lions, and he was a visitor along with other recruits for the Blue-White Game.
Also on hand at the PSU spring game was Bishop Guilfoyle kicker Kolton McGhee, who has two years of high school left and is being recruited by PSU for the class of 2019.
If McGhee were to sign with the Lions, there could be four Blair County players on the Penn State football team in 2019. It’s believed that hasn’t occurred since way back in the 1960s.
“It’s great for the community and great for Blair County football,” Hollidaysburg coach and AD Homer DeLattre said.
“It’s very impressive, and that all starts with the relationships,” he added. “Those (PSU) coaches are all about relationships, building them with the kids and also with the high school coaches.”
DeLattre said he’s in frequent contact with Penn State director of football operations Michael Hazel, who calls to check on high school players from around the area.
Defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who was born in Altoona and has extensive family ties here, also “talks a lot about this area and loves getting kids from this area,” DeLattre said.
Givens was heavily recruited and initially signed with Pitt before flipping to Penn State. But for some local standouts, such as Simpson and Hoenstine, they might have scholarship offers from smaller schools but choose instead to follow their dreams by walking on at Penn State.
Hoenstine said his visit for the Blue-White Game was “awesome.”
“I met a lot of people. It really opened my eyes to see what it’s like up there,” he said Sunday after his Central baseball team played in the Curve Classic.
As for more kids from the area going to PSU, Hoenstine said, “Blair County football is outstanding, and I think it’s just going to keep getting better.”
The Lions had some players injured and held some others out of the Blue-White Game, which gave Simpson a chance to start. He played well with the first-team offense in front of 71,000 fans as the Blue won, 26-0.
“I know they say the guys who work the hardest deserve the most, and he definitely is deserving of every opportunity he gets,” DeLattre said.
“Zach had a lot of other opportunities to play college football, but his dream was to play at Penn State. Last year watching him in the Rose Bowl … was just really awesome.”
Givens probably won’t be a starter at defensive tackle this fall since the Lions return seniors Curtis Cothran and Parker Cothren at D-tackle. Still, Givens already has shown he can be a major disruptive force on the D-line and will get a lot of playing time.
Pry spoke extensively about the strides Givens has made over the past two years.
“Kevin’s maturity, there’s less execution errors, there’s less mental errors,” Pry said. “He’s growing into the position. We kind of threw him in there last year. He kind of became a defensive tackle over night, and that was after quickly becoming a defensive end. He’s learning how to be a defensive lineman.
“He’s always made plays on his abilities, but he hasn’t always been right. He plays in the framework of the defense much better than he did in the fall. … He’s got some polishing to do on some leverage things and some things that we feel like can take his game to another level, particularly in the run game.”
What’s really cool about having several local players on the PSU team in the coming years is that the program seems headed for great success, and they will get to be along for the ride. Givens and Simpson already have played in one Rose Bowl, and there’s a chance that won’t be the only one they go to in their careers.
Hoenstine and, who knows, maybe McGhee or any other area kids who wind up with the Lions could be in line to live out their dreams playing on some of college football’s biggest stages.
The fact that they’re from Blair County can be a source of great pride for everyone here who loves high school and college football.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Mirror sports stringer Jon Fleck contributed to this story from Peoples Natural Gas Field.