Breakout on the horizon: Shorter could be the next name Nittany Lion fans can rave about
UNIVERSITY PARK — If you’re looking for one breakout player this year for Penn State, the one guy who could erupt out of nowhere with a huge season, wide receiver Justin Shorter very well may be your best bet.
Shorter caught all of three passes last season as a true freshman, playing in four games. But all of that valuable experience was essentially free practice for him, since Shorter still gets to use 2018 as a redshirt year because of the NCAA’s new four-game rule.
“Definitely getting those four games in helped me so much, just to see the speed of the game,” Shorter said. “From high school to college it’s so different, the speed, and everyone’s fast, everyone’s big, everyone’s strong.
“So for me to be able to play those four games just mentally gives me much more confidence for this year to be able to go out there and actually dominate.”
Shorter mentioned that word — dominate — several times during an interview on PSU’s media day. It’s clear he has very high expectations for himself, and the receiver unit as a whole, this season.
Huge expectations are nothing new for Shorter, who was the No. 1 wide receiver recruit in the country two years ago. He also is the 149th highest-rated overall recruit of this century, according to 247Sports.
Take a look at Shorter, and it’s easy to see why he’s had so much hype. He’s 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, exceptional size for a receiver. He’s also fast, reportedly has great hands and already has made big strides learning how to run crisp routes.
We really didn’t get to see much of those traits last season, in large part because Shorter had a minor injury setback early on that slowed his development. He played in the third game of the season against Kent State, then didn’t see action again until Wisconsin in week 10.
“I was banged up a tiny bit, so it kind of messed me up a tiny bit before the season,” he said. “But I definitely bounced back.”
Penn State had huge problems with receivers dropping passes last season, which derailed the offense at times and caused quarterback Trace McSorley to have to carry too much of a burden to move the ball.
Shorter conceivably could have helped the offense had he been healthy, but the decision was made to keep him out for the bulk of the season so he wouldn’t top the four-game redshirt threshold.
“I trust in what the trainers thought and what the coaches thought about me getting back safely and healthy so I could play the rest of my career and not have some of those issues that I had,” Shorter said.
Having benefited from it first hand, he loves the new four-game redshirt rule.
“Oh yeah,” Shorter said. “I was able to redshirt, and this year having those four games under my belt helped me so much. I’ve already played in the stadium and the bowl game, so that’s going to help me out huge.
“Now I’m back full and ready to go for the season.”
The Nittany Lions found a potential star last year in KJ Hamler, an electrifying receiver with game-breaking ability. Jahan Dotson also came on strong late in the year and should be a bigger factor this season.
There’s no telling exactly how Shorter will fare in his first full season, but given his frame and overall skill set, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if he becomes the team’s top wide receiver target.
He just has to get the experience and show a level of consistency in order to take the next steps in his development.
“He shows flashes,” Franklin said of Shorter earlier this year. “He’s 6-4, (and) we are working like hell to keep him under 230 pounds. I mean, literally, he could be 250 right now if he wanted to. He’s like a cheeseburger away from 250.
“He can run. … But like a lot of big guys, it’s the transitions, top of the route, in and out of breaks. It’s playing as big and strong as what he is, in terms of contested catches, in terms of blocking, in terms of releasing and being physical.”
Shorter said he’s worked hard on his route running and noted that part of his game has gotten “so much better.”
“I know a lot more ways (to get open),” he added. “If the defense gives me a certain look, I know ways to break off and get off the route just to get open. So me just being able to run different routes, going full speed for like 12 yards and breaking down in two steps, three steps, it’s definitely changing for me.”
Shorter already found out last year how different college football is from high school, where he was just better than everybody else and could dominate at any time.
“Very different because (in college) you have to think and read different parts of the coverages and the field,” Shorter said. “You have to see everything prior to the snap even happening.
“The speed of the game is just so much faster, so I really have to break down what I do and work so much harder just so I can dominate at this level.”