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Time to Step Up: Drew Astorino

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/looks around surreptitiously....Are we in the clear? Did that nasty Injury Jinx blow on by? Are we continuing to play with the proverbial fire? Would a real fire be a deterrent for Injury Jinxes? Or, did I just double jinx us into some new affliction to our football team? Hey, speaking of fire, did you see this tee hee funny on twitter the other day?: 'I bet the firemen in alarms 2 through 5 are all pissed that they had to get all dressed up and get in the truck for some chili.'

Aaaaannnnyway, let's get on with it and talk about this observer's prediction for a defensive team captain: Drew Astorino. If Michael Mauti is one of our favorite kinds of Penn State football players (a legacy talent whose father also played for Joe Paterno), then Drew Astorino could be described as one of the more polarizing kinds of Penn State football players: an undersized, flat of foot defensive player who impresses coaches with sure tackling, appears in a high number of defensive snaps and who may or may not be of Eyetalian descent. These players have been a staple of Paterno-led teams and have occasionally been the source or subject of much angst among our plenty-polarized fanbase. Most fans these past few years, however, have given Drew more than a fair shake, especially in light of his relatively solid play while playing through injuries the past two seasons.

Astorino arrived in the Class of 2007 as an unheralded recruit (3* Scout/2* Rivals; probably headed to Kent State if Joe hadn't offered him) out of Edinboro. He came in with 4*s Chazz Powell and Nick Sukay and was expected to provide depth in the secondary. He redshirted that year, but immediately pressed for playing time in the excellent 2008 season, coming in as the nickelback to the starting rotation of Tony Davis & Lydell Sargeant at CB and Anthony Scirotto and Mark Rubin at Safety, despite BSD staff preseason anxiousness about his upside:

You'll remember Rubin as the only wide receiver with a functioning pair of hands in 2004. He's being pushed by lightly-recruited redshirt freshman Drew Astorino, which is simultaneously inspiring for Astorino's sake and terrifying for the rest of us.

He was seen breaking up a pass in Week 2 vs. Oregon State (link included for the fun thread full of weed jokes), and went on to have a fine season. He ended up starting 3 games (2 at nickel and one at free safety) and finished 9th on the team in tackles with 39 (and one TFL) in his RSFR season. Not too shabby. In 2009, it was more of that upward trajectory, despite playing through a painful shoulder injury: he started 12 games and finished 4th on the team in tackles behind Hull, Bowman & Lee, with 62. He was also notably revered by the coaching staff, who felt he was one of the few who could be trusted to field punts, despite his obvious lack of speed. Or moves. Or any intention whatsoever of actually making a return, as Mike pointed out after the Michigan game in Week 8:

The punt return game...seriously guys. Absolutely terrible. I shouldn't complain because they are catching the ball, but what was up with Zug catching the ball and starting to run only to find out Drew Astorino called for a fair catch? It's like the Keystone Cops out there. Let's put the dual return man thing to bed. There is absolutely nothing dynamic about our punt return game right now. Something tells me Joe Paterno likes it that way.

Astorino had surgery on the injured shoulder immediately after the 2009 season, but in August of 2010 reinjured it in a way that likely affected his play throughout last season. Playing through pain again, he still managed to start 12 games and to be the 4th best tackler again, finishing with 70 on one of Penn State's more mediocre defenses of the last 20-30 years.

So where does that leave Astorino heading into this, his RSSR season? For starters, we hope he's healthy and we haven't heard anything contrary to that, so maybe he'll have a chance at a good season (well, only if this Step Up jinx is indeed past us). But beyond his toughness, which is undisputed among both teammates and fans, Astorino's other major attribute is his leadership. This is something the coaches saw in him very early on. He's bright, he understands positions and picks things up quickly and thoroughly, and these skills, along with his inherent toughness, help him be a leader on the field. I'm guessing that that extends also to the locker room. I normally really suck at predictions, but I'll state here that I expect Drew to be named one of this season's team captains for these reasons. Lastly, here is a video interview with Astorino that Fugi captured, where a few of these intangibles can be seen and heard if you watch and listen closely.

Now that's quite a few 'obviously's,' but I'll add one more: if the Penn State defense is to realistically return to Dominance this season, it will need some solid senior leadership. And it's into this position that Drew Astorino needs to step up.