It is time once again to begin our annual countdown to kickoff! With just 99 days until the next scheduled football game, a September 5 match-up at home against Kent State, we will lead off with one of the best players to wear the largest number allowed.
Yetur Gross-Matos committed to Penn State in February of 2016, which in many ways was not that long ago. Looking at it from the standpoint of success on the field, the Lions were just coming off a loss at the TaxSlayer Bowl and Christian Hackenberg, for better or worse, left for the NFL. Only Sean Clifford had signed to the 2017 recruiting class at that point, having done so way back in July.
YGM chose to come to the Lions instead of heading to many schools that had better track records in recent years, such as Clemson, who was coming off a national title. Instead he came to Happy Valley and it didn’t take long for it to pay off. He watched as the Lions made a surprising run to the Rose Bowl then joined the team the next year in time to take part in a Fiesta Bowl win.
In 2018 he became the impact player that led to his being drafted this past year by the Carolina Panthers with the 38th pick overall. Gross-Matos had 8 sacks and 54 tackles, 36 solo, while getting top attention from the opposing team’s blocking scheme. He was a beast but even in his own words, he was still learning.
This was what he said following the game against Iowa in 2018. “The whole freshman year I kind of knew what I was doing,” he smiled and repeated, “I kind of knew what I was doing. Just the scheme of the defense and making adjustments during the game, I wasn’t really catching on. I think that’s a huge difference from last season to this season.”
He played pretty well in that game, including this sack where he simply man-handled the offensive tackle.
It is hard to come right into playing at the highest level as a freshman. As a player, you tend to be smaller than the opponent and if that opponent is an upperclassmen, he may have had thousands of game reps versus your dozens of snaps. It takes a while to get acclimated even if you do understand the defense better than YGM did during his freshman season.
Since then he has been a handful. With 9 sacks last year in two fewer games played, his production was solid. It wasn’t the dominant season that some expected but what he was able to do in 2018 was pretty special. Not too many players could have topped that. He remained a problem for opposing teams and opened up lanes of pursuit for other defenders.
The Penn State roster does not currently have a player listed as No. 99, but don’t worry, tomorrow we’ll make up for it. There are three players that will wear 98, all members of special teams.
Let’s hope that any news of the coming season is positive, and that the countdown will continue, as it has for more than a decade, all the way to the opening kickoff.
99 more days!