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Penn State Preseason Top 10 Players: #8 Garrett Sickels

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NCAA Football: Penn State at Temple Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Today we continue with our top 10 players of 2016 countdown with our number eight selection- redshirt junior defensive end Garrett Sickels, the lone returning starter on Penn State’s rebuilt retooled defensive line.

How He Got Here:

Garrett Sickels committed to Penn State in the midst of the Sandusky Scandal, when many were predicting an abrupt downfall for the program. After the announcement of the NCAA sanctions on the dawn of the 2012 fall camp, Sickels re-affirmed his commitment to Penn State, despite offers from Alabama, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State and just about every other powerhouse program in the nation.

Hailing from Little Silver, N.J., Sickels was ranked as the seventh best defensive end in his class and the sixth in the state in a year where a ridiculous amount of talent came out of the Garden State.

While classmates Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman saw immediate action in 2013, Sickels took a redshirt season to add some weight and prepare for the rigors of the Big Ten. He saw regular time as a redshirt freshman in 2014 as a key member of the two-deep rotation at defensive end. With the starters getting a breather, Sickels more than held his own as part of one of the nation’s best defenses, which finished the regular season as the stingiest run defense in all of college football.

In 2015 he earned a spot as a full-time starter and had a solid season, finishing with 35 tackles, five negative hits, three sacks, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. While Sickels showed improvement from week-to-week throughout the season, he was largely overshadowed by defensive tackle standouts Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel, as well as Carl Nassib’s surprise season that found him leading the NCAA in sacks.

What to Expect in 2016

What a difference a year makes, as Sickels goes from an relatively inexperienced new starter to the savvy veteran of the unit.

As the lone returning starter on the defensive line, Sickels will be counted on to provide valuable leadership this fall. Many of Penn State’s front four will be high on potential, yet very short on experience. Sickels will need to set the tone on how to handle yourself on and off the field, as the younger players look at him as an example for his tenacious play, work in the weight room, film sessions, etc.

Sickels reportedly had a great offseason, where he lost a few pounds to increase his explosiveness. If you recall, Sicklels has been oh-so-close to making many plays in the background but was a split second too late. Just a slight uptick in speed could result in several momentum-swinging plays in 2016. He’s apparently has left a great impression on defensive coordinator Brent Pry with his work in the weight room:

“Garrett’s had a monster summer,” defensive coordinator Brent Pry said. “He’s one of our -- if not the -- hardest worker, which is a great quality to have. He’s a good leader in that room.”

Sickels should also see his productivity rise. Now in his third year under defensive line coach Sean Spencer, many expect him to become the latest standout for the “Wild Dogs.” Between his pedigree, physical skills and experience, a double digit sacks season is within reach. If that happens, expect Sickels to appear higher on our top 10 list when we revisit the rankings following the season.

#10 Marcus Allen

#9 Grant Haley