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Young King stands out on defense

PSU notebook

Penn State cornerback Kalen King (4) is greeted by head coach James Franklin after making an interception in an intrasquad scrimmage during their NCAA football practice, Saturday, April 17, 2021, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

UNIVERSITY PARK — As he dropped back, Sean Clifford saw Parker Washington being covered one-on-one with freshman Kalen King in the front of the end zone to his left. Clifford took a chance by challenging the freshman corner.

King accepted that challenge and made an outstanding play to pick him off. It was King’s second interception of the day during Penn State’s annual Blue-White spring practice on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

King came to Penn State as a four-star recruit by 247sports, and he showed why he earned that rating.

Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry knows what King brings to the table and his instinctual skillset.

“He’s got exceptional skills. He’s very confident and mature for a freshman and he’s got great instincts. His instincts remind me of (Micah) Parsons a little bit,” Pry said. “It just comes really easy to him. He’s shown that from practice one. I don’t think there’s been a practice go by that we haven’t seen some highlights from him. He’s still learning the position as far as schematics and techniques … but he’s got really good skill set, is very mature, very confident and great instincts.”

Of King’s two picks, one was a pick-six. The freshman corner played great whenever he was on the field. It didn’t come as a surprise to any of Penn State’s staff or even Clifford, who noted that King has been making great plays all spring.

“He is physically ready. He’s a guy that’s come in and is physically developed from a weight standpoint and a strength standpoint. He’s very mature … and knows how to prepare, knows how to compete, know how to work,” James Franklin said. “He’s always around the ball and has a pretty good understanding of what we want him to do from a scheme perspective. What you saw today wasn’t new. We saw it all spring.”

Playing both sides

When Franklin and his staff recruited Marquise Wilson to play at Penn State, they started early on talking about the possibility of playing both ways. For Franklin, once a player has established himself at a position — in Wilson’s case cornerback — he’s open to discussing playing both sides of the ball.

Current Denver Broncos wide receiver KJ Hamler wanted to play defensive back while he was with the Nittany Lions but didn’t get that chance. Hamler was in attendance as one of Penn State’s former players and got to see Wilson do what he wanted to do by playing on offense and defense.

Wilson got time at both cornerback and wide receiver and made the most of the opportunity.

“(Marquise has) great ball skills, has got tremendous confidence in himself and we’re looking for a few more playmakers at the wide receiver position,” Franklin said. “He’s still figuring it out right now, but he’s already showing some flashes in practice and we’ll continue to build there.”

Glimpse of normal

While no tailgating was allowed and general fans couldn’t attend Saturday’s Blue-White spring game, there were 7,521 people in attendance. Penn State limited attendance to first-year students and families and guests of players, coaches and staff this year.

It’s far from the 100,000 fans that pack Beaver Stadium on any given Saturday in the fall, but for the Penn State coaches and players, it was nice to see some fans in attendance and have a little bit of normalcy in that regard.

“It was awesome. I really appreciate the fans for coming out today and supporting us. After last season, it was a weird year in general, but not having everyone there and not having the 107K and ‘Sweet Caroline’ going, there’s just so much that you miss,” Clifford said. “There was a little bit of it, a fraction of the normal capacity, but at same time it was so exciting to be out there and hearing all the fans, hearing them sing, doing the alma mater.

“It’s the little things like that you don’t really appreciate until they’re gone, and we actually had them taken away last year.”

In addition to the fans, Penn State’s Blue Band was in attendance to play throughout the game and put on a concert on the field for the first-year students afterwards. Penn State’s Lionettes also performed.

The attendance was one of the first things Franklin mentioned in the post-game press conference.

“A lot of things we got to get cleaned up but being back in the stadium was a real positive for us and we’ll build on that,” he said. “Being in that stadium felt great, I can’t imagine what it’ll be like to get back to what we were averaging in the two years before the pandemic (with) 106,000 fans.”

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