With a new starting quarterback and plenty of other roster moves this offseason, there's a certain degree of uncertainty surrounding Penn State football entering this season. The tight end position, however, seems to be locked down.
Jonathan Holland started 2018 as Penn State's No. 1 tight end, but he quickly fell out of the starting lineup in favor of freshman Pat Freiermuth. Tight end quickly became one of the team's strengths in no small part thanks to Freiermuth, who finished the 2018 season with 368 receiving yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns on 26 catches.
Penn State's No. 87 put together impressive performances against Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, and Rutgers in the regular season, but perhaps his most impressive display took place on one of college football's biggest stages. Freiermuth made his first collegiate start against Ohio State under White Out conditions at Beaver Stadium, finishing the game with three receptions for 44 yards and a score.
“I remember when they first told me [I was starting], the first thing that came to mind was the White Out,” Freiermuth recalled earlier this offseason. “It was crazy. That week of preparation was unreal. I knew I prepared myself, and I did the work to live up to if I were to be a starter, and I think that it worked out pretty well for me.”
Since he wears No. 87 and is from Massachusetts, Freiermuth naturally gets a lot of comparisons to former New England Patriots star Rob Gronkowski. The three-time Super Bowl champion has probably inspired countless kids to wear No. 87 in whichever sport they play, but Freiermuth isn't one of them. He wore No. 89 in high school, but that number was taken when he arrived in Happy Valley. Since he didn't want to wear Penn State legend Mike Gesicki's old No. 88, Freiermuth took the next-best option.
Gronkowski was one of the NFL's most energetic -- and flat-out wild -- tight ends before announcing his retirement earlier this offseason. Penn State's No. 87, however, couldn't be any further from that.
“Pat’s got a bright future. He’s a level-headed guy," former Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said after throwing two touchdowns to Freiermuth in a victory over Rutgers. "I think that’s one of the things that’s awesome with Pat is his mentality and his approach.”
It's safe to expect big things out of Penn State's newest star tight end in 2019, even with Sean Clifford likely assuming the full-time starting quarterback role for the first time in his collegiate career. Head coach James Franklin and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne definitely have a well-rounded weapon to work with this year.
“I think Pat has a chance to be one of the better tight ends in the country,” Franklin said. “There’s not one area [to improve], because I wouldn’t say Pat has a weakness right now. Getting stronger, faster, and leaner will help him, but he can hurt you in a lot of different ways.”