Heading into 2017, there were no questions about Penn State’s starting cornerbacks. Seniors Grant Haley and Christian Campbell were back, while junior John Reid — the best of the bunch — was also returning. Reid has perhaps the highest football I.Q. on the team, and is one of the most complete corners in the nation. He shined wherever he was on the field, whether it was as the boundary corner or at nickelback.
Unfortunately, Reid went down with a serious knee injury during spring practice, leaving the Nittany Lions with a question in the secondary: Who could take over Reid’s versatile role at cornerback?
Enter freshman Lamont Wade.
Wade was a highly-touted prospect since his freshman year of high school, garnering offers from some of the country’s premier programs — Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and UCLA to name a few. The Clairton product eventually chose Penn State, enrolling early to get a head start on his college career. Once on campus, it didn’t take long for Wade to turn heads in winter workouts and on the practice field.
Wade isn’t the biggest player in the world. He’s only 5-foot-9 maybe pushing 5-foot-10, and he doesn’t have a long wingspan to combat his lack of length either. But outside of that, Wade checks nearly every box. He’s already one of the strongest cornerbacks on the team, something that should be helpful when coming up in run support to make a tackle. He’s just as quick as he is fast, running a 4.4-second 40 in the spring. And like Reid, he has a high football I.Q. and displays the instincts to be at the right place at the right time.
Even before Reid’s injury, Wade’s stellar spring performance meant he was going to see a good amount of playing time in the fall. But now with the nickel spot up for the taking, Wade won’t be eased into action. Instead, he’ll be thrown right into the fire. For many freshman, the pressure to produce from day one might be overwhelming, but for Wade, his mentally should serve him well come September.
“He’s got tremendous confidence, as we all saw in high school,” James Franklin told the CDT during the spring when asked about Wade. “But with some guys, that goes away when they get to college; that hasn’t gone away.”
It goes well beyond just having swagger, though. Despite being in the limelight since he was 14 years old, Wade still plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s a crazy competitor who’s at his best when he’s matched up against the best. Of course, there’s going to be growing pains. It’d be foolish not to believe so because, after all, he is just a freshman. But this is a kid that’s been groomed for the big time, and he’s really used to winning.
While the loss of Reid stung — and still stings today — it’s opened up an opportunity for this young freshman from Clairton. For a Penn State team with National Title aspirations, they’ll need him to have a breakout year. And if there’s anything I’ve learned about Lamont Wade, it’s that he doesn’t shy away from the big moments; he embraces them.