As Bill O’Brien continues to travel around the country hoping to land recruits, Penn State’s future continues to brighten as it emerges from the dark scandal that shook the nation.
Although the Lions graduated 30 seniors, this leaves numerous spots for new players to step up and emerge into the spotlight.
Penn State has many holes to fill this season including spots at linebacker, quarterback and corner.
Although landing top recruits is key for the future success of the program, the immediate future is looking bright.
Here are five young players that have the opportunity and abilities to become stars next season in an enhanced role on the team.
This year, Da’Quan Davis provided some much-needed depth to a thin Penn State secondary.
Although Davis played in 11 games, his time at corner was very limited while Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris both stayed healthy for most of the year.
In his limited time, though, Davis deflected six passes, recovered a fumble and made five tackles.
Next year, Davis is most likely going to replace the graduating Morris and step up into a full-time role.
Unlike Amos, Davis is built much more like a corner, standing at 5’10” and 170 pounds.
Coming into Penn State, Davis wasn’t heavily recruited in part due to his small size.
ESPN.com reported that Davis “lacks the ideal height, bulk and strength” but that he is still a very instinctive player.
This year Davis wasn’t able to show us much of what he can do, but he did provide glimpses of that instinctive play and an overall confidence.
With both Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges in front of him this year, Nyeem Wartman wasn’t destined to have much playing time.
In Penn State’s first game this year against Ohio, though, Wartman, a true freshman, showed how athletic he is by blocking a punt.
But Wartman’s season was cut short by a knee injury, and the linebacker only played in two games.
Wartman’s early injury most likely slowed his progress on getting onto the field, but next season he will have another opportunity to start.
O’Brien has said that Wartman has a “really, really bright future” in Happy Valley, which shows that the young linebacker will be in the mix.
Wartman has proven his athleticism, but getting on the field at “Linebacker U” will be a tough task.
Nonetheless, Wartman has the potential of earning the starting job and can be a big player next year.
As Penn State’s top recruit in the class of 2012, Eugene Lewis experienced a relatively quiet season in Happy Valley.
Lewis redshirted this past season and was used heavily as a dual-threat quarterback on the scout team to prepare the Penn State defense for Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez.
But Lewis has serious talent and a very high ceiling.
Although he may not have elite speed with a 4.58 40-yard dash time, Lewis can make plays on the ball.
ESPN.com says that Lewis’s ability to make plays in the air makes up for his lack of speed.
Speed isn’t everything, though, and O’Brien redshirted Lewis for a reason.
We all saw what Allen Robinson was able to do in O’Brien’s offense, and Lewis can become that No. 2 threat.
There will be solid competition for the second receiver position with Brandon Moseby-Felder and Trevor Williams already having experience, but Lewis might be a big surprise next year.
Freshman Anthony Zettel signed at Penn State as a four-star offensive lineman.
After redshirting in 2011, Zettel was able to fight for playing time this season and was listed as a third-string defensive tackle and defensive end.
Although he was stuck behind seniors Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro, Zettel was still able to make an impact.
Zettel collected 15 tackles this season, including four sacks and four tackles for a loss. He was also able to deflect four passes.
With much of the focus likely to be put on Deion Barnes next year, Zettel might be able to make a big difference.
Zettel was tied for third on the team in sacks and has shown a knack for getting after the passer.
If Zettel can capitalize on the opportunity to play in the shadow of Barnes, he can be a top pass rusher next year.
This season, we caught a small glimpse at what freshman Jesse James can do.
After a slow start and limited playing time, James was able to catch 15 passes for 276 yards and hauled in five touchdowns.
At 6’7” and 264 pounds, James has a solid build at the tight end position, but sat in the shadow of fellow freshman tight end Kyle Carter.
After Carter’s injury, though, James was able to make big plays and matured into the offense.
Out of South Allegheny High School, James was not heavily recruited with offers only from Penn State and Toledo.
But according to ESPN.com, James runs a 4.88 40-yard dash.
James’s size and speed alone are intangibles that can help him lead to success.
With his gained experience during his freshman year, James will have a chance to shine as another strong tight end in O’Brien’s offense.