Penn State's Wartman-White ready to return from ACL tear
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) Nyeem Wartman-White knows how quickly promise can disintegrate into heartbreak.
Nearly one year to the day that a torn left ACL robbed him of all but three series of his junior season, the Penn State linebacker will return to the lineup when Kent State visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
He'll do so with a whole new outlook.
''I had selfish thoughts,'' Wartman-White said of last season's opener against Temple. ''I remember in that game going over to a teammate and saying, `Yo, it's going to be a good year.' I had high expectations but I felt like that was very eye-opening because after I said that, it probably happened right there.''
Wartman-White began that game on a tear with two tackles and a third-down pass breakup in his first action as the team's middle linebacker. It appeared the defense was in good hands with Wartman-White as its de facto captain.
It all ended moments later when he crumpled to the Lincoln Financial Field grass in agony. As he sat in the locker room, all he could think about is how badly he had wanted to put on a show in his hometown. Now, personal glory means little to him.
''This year, it's all about winning,'' Wartman-White said. ''If I have one tackle per game but we win the Big Ten championship and I can put that ring on my finger and keep it for the rest of my life, that matters more to me than getting 140 tackles.''
It's why he had no trouble shifting back to the less-glamorous weakside position he'd played in previous seasons. And it's why he quickly saw the silver lining of his season-ending injury. It provided teammate Jason Cabinda with critical playing time in the middle.
Now with Cabinda back, Penn State has its most experienced trio of linebackers since Wartman-White can remember with Brandon Bell at the other outside spot.
''It definitely would've been a huge year for Nyeem,'' Bell said. ''He has all the tools, athleticism, he's vocal, smart.''
Here are some other things to watch for as Penn State plays Kent State:
NEW FACES UP FRONT
Wartman-White's return gives Penn State a second vocal contributor. He and Cabinda are basically interchangeable, head coach James Franklin said, and their combined experience organizing the defense will help young players - particularly a host of freshmen tackles - along the defensive front.
Defensive end Garrett Sickels is the lone returning starter from what was one of the best fronts in the country.
''They're ready to show that we don't rebuild, we reload,'' Wartman-White said. ''They're ready to step in and show people we're good too, we're not just shadows.''
Kent State will likely play three quarterbacks as the Golden Flashes try to find a long-term starter. Freshman Justin Agner will start with Mylik Mitchell and George Bollas coming off the bench.
RETURN ON INVESTMENT
The Golden Flashes struggled to cover kickoffs last season allowing 26.3 yards per return and the Nittany Lions want to take advantage of that. Penn State star running back Saquon Barkley could handle kick return duties, Franklin said. The Nittany Lions' last return touchdown came in the 2011 opener.
Expect Penn State to rotate offensive linemen especially if the game gets out of hand early. The Nittany Lions will debut a new spread-based, up-tempo offense and have used a handful of underclassmen to augment starters Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson, Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia and Ryan Bates through training camp.