Player Spotlight: Grant Haley
This weekend Penn State will face one of their fiercest foes (not rivals) in the Ohio State Buckeyes. Ohio State has Penn State outgunned at every position because of superb recruiting, bringing in talent seemingly by the truckload to Columbus, Ohio. If the Nittany Lions hope to compete, lower rated recruits will have to step up and prove they belong on the big stage.
Look no further than Grant Haley, Penn State’s small but speedy shutdown corner. At least that is what he will need to be if there is any chance of an upset this weekend in Happy Valley. Haley came to Penn State as apart of James Franklin’s first recruiting class. As a three-star recruit, many fans were surprised to see him on the field during his true freshman season. He became a starter on special teams returning kickoffs, as well as shooting down field on punts. Haley even set the record for most kickoffs returned in one season with 32, topping Chaz Powell’s record of 27, set in 2011.
This playmaking ability also shined on defense. He added crucial depth to a team still devastated from harsh sanctions and was often on the field as a fifth member of the secondary. Haley’s only interception of the year was also returned for a touchdown against Temple. This successful true freshman season for Haley was enough to earn him Honorable mention for the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
In 2015, Haley continued to build upon this success and earned a starting role for Bob Shoop’s defensive unit. No longer a part of special teams Haley was able to focus solely on defense and this showed with his play on the field. He finished tied for the team lead with two interceptions and finished first with seven pass breakups. Haley was once again an Honorable mention for the Big Ten on defense.
Change is one of the themes this season for the Nittany Lions defense. Bob Shoop left to Tennessee and Brent Pry took over as the defensive coordinator. They also lost three players from the defensive line to the NFL draft. It was clear that the secondary and linebacker units would need to pick up the slack for Penn State to continue to dominate their opponents defensively.
Unfortunately, the injury bug hit Penn State like no other to start the season. Haley was among the wounded and was sidelined through the first four games. Role players such as Amani Oruwariye and Jordan Smith were forced to step in and play significant snaps.
Haley returned to action against Minnesota and Maryland, which creates an interesting mix in the secondary. Haley and John Reid have different styles, with Haley relying on his talent to get the job done and Reid anticipates routes before they occur. If these corners can limit outside threats such as Curtis Samuel, this gives linebackers the ability to stop the run of dangerous dual-threat JT Barret. This means one on one matchups in the secondary will be a matchup to watch this weekend.
Look for Haley to use his speed to try to keep up with Ohio State receivers during the White Out on Saturday.
Brian McLaughlin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.