Stevens enters transfer portal
Penn State’s quarterback situation, and the team’s prospects as a whole this fall, took a bizarre turn Wednesday when it was revealed that projected starter Tommy Stevens has submitted his name to the NCAA transfer portal.
There are many elements in play with this development, and little is known about exactly why Stevens made his decision.
It’s unclear if the fifth-year senior does indeed plan to transfer, if he’s just exploring his options, or if perhaps he’s making some type of power play to try and ensure he is named the starter at Penn State.
He already has graduated from PSU, so if he does transfer, Stevens would be eligible to play immediately at another school. But he has little actual game experience at quarterback for the Nittany Lions, so it’s hard to see another major program guaranteeing him a starting job or even significant playing time until he arrived there and competed for a job.
Penn State coach James Franklin said after the Blue-White Game on Saturday that he is not ready to name a starting quarterback, with Stevens and redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford to battle it out this summer and in fall camp.
“We want to be able to name the starter as soon as we possibly can, but we are not ready to do that right now,” Franklin said Saturday. “Our coaching staff has all the belief in the world in Tommy, our coaching staff understands what Tommy has done and who he can be.
“But we also have belief in the other guys, and we’ve created real good competition in our quarterback room. We’ll see how this plays out.”
If Stevens were to transfer, Clifford almost certainly would be the starter this fall, and redshirt freshman Will Levis would be the backup.
To be clear, Franklin also pointed out he doesn’t name starters at any position at this point in the year, which keeps healthy competition alive within the program.
Stevens, it appears, wants some assurances as he enters his final season of college eligibility.
Franklin, meanwhile, isn’t ready to give such assurances, and the situation is cloudy because Stevens is coming off surgery in December and was limited during spring drills. He warmed up before the Blue-White Game but did not practice.
Stevens may feel he’s already done enough to warrant being named the starter. He barely lost the starting job to Trace McSorley prior to the 2016 season, spent the past three years as the primary backup and even had a position created for him — the lion — to utilize his skill set and keep him happy so that he would stay and wait his turn.
Stevens considered transferring a year ago, though he decided to stay put at Penn State. But he had a foot/lower leg injury last year that lingered during the 2018 season and kept him out of action for several games. Then Stevens required an additional surgery in December to fix the problem, which he said wasn’t fixed right the first time.
Given all that, and that Clifford not only was the No. 2 quarterback for much of last season and the No. 1 quarterback this spring, Franklin has to be cautious in naming Stevens the starter now.
Such a move, without giving Clifford a fair chance to compete for the job, conceivably could anger Clifford and cause him to look at transferring at some point. Given that Clifford is highly thought of and has three years of eligibility left, Franklin has to make sure and keep him happy.
So, there are two sides here:
n A senior quarterback who just wants to play in his final year of college so he can perhaps give himself a chance to play in the NFL, and
n A football coach who has to look out for an entire program and do what’s best for everyone
Stevens’ father, Tom, made it clear in comments last week that his son would be leaving if he’s not Penn State’s starter.
“Tommy has so much invested in this year, and we know that this is his last shot,” Tom Stevens told the CDT. “If he’s not Penn State’s quarterback, he’s going to be somebody’s quarterback.
“Everyone already knows, if he’s not playing at Penn State this year, he’s probably going to leave. I don’t think that’s much news to anybody. He wants to be a starter. … If it’s not Tommy, then I think Sean would do a great job, and we would wish Penn State the best of luck.”
It’s very rare for a parent of a Penn State player to make those kinds of comments publicly. Franklin surely knows how the Stevens family feels on the issue through private discussions, but few coaches like to see these kinds of things played out in the media with such comments.
Franklin and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne praised Stevens following the Blue-White Game.
“He looks really good, he’s thrown the ball well when he could throw the ball in the spring and he’s been itching to get in there,” Rahne said. “We had to pull him back and say, ‘Whoa,’ which is what you want in a competitor like that. So, really happy with his spring, actually.”