As we approach the Blue-White Game, let’s look back at the best of 2018 as voted on by the BSD staff. It’s time for the three highest vote-getters: wide receiver KJ Hamler, defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, and quarterback Trace McSorley.
3. WR KJ Hamler
The redshirt freshman speedster Hamler exploded onto the scene in the opener against Appalachian State, catching three passes for 67 yards, including the game-tying touchdown with under a minute to go. The Michigan native set up the equalizing score with a 52-yard kick return in the fourth quarter. He followed up that performance with both a rushing and a receiving touchdown against Pitt, and had over 100 all-purpose yards against Kent State. Hamler’s breakout game was on the biggest stage against Ohio State, where he hauled in four passes for 138 yards and a 93-yard score before leaving late with an injury. Following the bye week, Hamler returned to the field with five catches for 66 yards against Michigan State, and 188 all-purpose yards against Iowa. For the season, the wideout finished third in the Big Ten in yards per return at 26.2, and fourth in the conference in total return yards. With the losses of DeAndre Thompkins, Juwan Johnson, and others, Hamler looks to be an even bigger part of the offense and special teams in 2019.
2. DE Yetur Gross-Matos
Defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos started 13 games in 2018 and gave the Nittany Lions an intimidating presence on the edge. After back-to-back three tackle performances against App State and Pitt, YGM earned his first sack of the season against Kent State and had 10 tackles and a career-high two sacks against Indiana. The true sophomore continued his sack streak with two more against Iowa, one against Michigan, and a strip-sack versus Wisconsin. During the 2018 season, Gross-Matos averaged 1.5 tackles for loss per game, good enough for second in the conference and 12th in the nation. For his efforts, the Virginia native was named first-team All-Big Ten by the media and second-team by the coaches. Given the losses of Kevin Givens and Shareef Miller on the defensive front, Gross-Matos will be a crucial part of the Nittany Lions success or failure on defense in 2019.
1. QB Trace McSorley
Quarterback and emotional leader Trace McSorley had a roller-coaster 2018 season. Yes, he might have struggled against Michigan and Kentucky, and in several late-game situations, but he also kept Penn State in several games. On the game-tying drive against the Mountaineers in Week 1, the senior completed five of six passes for 47 yards, including the aforementioned touchdown to Hamler. The Ashburn, VA product also accounted for five total touchdowns against Kent State, and of course, 461 total yards versus the Buckeyes. McSorley leaves the Nittany Lions as Penn State’s all-time leader in wins, completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, total yards, rushing yards and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, touchdowns responsible for, and 200 and 300-yard passing games. Will his successor be Tommy Stevens or Sean Clifford? One thing is for sure, they will not be another Trace McSorley.
Check back Friday for a full voting breakdown!