As with every other season, the Penn State football team will feature a lot of new players due to graduation.
There has been much interest in the new Nittany Lions who will take the field at the receiver positions and along the offensive and defensive lines, but another important position that will see a change this year is kicker.
Through all of his ups and downs, Kevin Kelly started every game at kicker for PSU over each of the last four seasons. He handled both the field goal and kick-off duties, and helped the Lions to three bowl wins and two BCS appearances during his tenure.
Now that Kelly has graduated, the kicking responsibilities are expected to be handed off to redshirt junior Collin Wagner, Kelly's backup for the last two seasons.
Wagner is a local product from State College Area High School, where he starred as field-goal kicker and punter for the successful Little Lion program.
He was particularly noticeable in his role as punter for perfecting the punt-on-the-run angled toward the sideline. While Wagner has focused purely on kick-offs and field goals at PSU, his skills at directional kicking have clearly helped his progress.
Penn State fans may remember that Wagner was sent onto the field for a key kick-off in last season's home night game against Illinois.
He had won the kick-off job away from Kevin Kelly in practice, and was called upon to kick an angled kick-off towards the corner of the end-zone, away from the Illini's dangerous return men.
Wagner executed the kick well, but ran into a bit of bad luck. The kick was on line and heading right for the front corner of the end zone, but as it took its initial bounce inside the field of play, the ball took a bounce to the right and careened out of bounds.
Not understanding the substitution for the four-year starter Kelly, most PSU fans booed Wagner's mistake that allowed Illinois to start on their own 35-yard line.
The Penn State coaching staff also had a change of heart and allowed Kelly to retain the kick-off job. While recognizing that Wagner's kick was exactly what was called for, Kelly's experience and improvement at kick-offs made him an easy choice.
The experience in a big-game situation should help Wagner in the upcoming season though, as his only other game-action has come in lopsided victories for the Nittany Lions.
I expect for Wagner to thrive in his new role. He is an incredibly gifted athlete with a very strong work ethic. Wagner only began kicking as a sophomore in high school, but was involved in sports his entire childhood.
He participated mainly in baseball from middle school through the first few years of high school.
There, he was a big part of local state college all-star teams in the summer that reached two PA State championship games as well as a Babe Ruth League World Series appearance in 2002.
Most of these teams also featured Wagner's twin brother Chris, and were coached by his father.
Collin and Chris were both successful in other sports as kids, particularly basketball and soccer. After both twins had enough of baseball, Chris moved on to wrestling and golf, while Collin decided to concentrate on football.
He was able to translate his soccer skills successfully into football kicking, and has improved his power and accuracy significantly every year since he began.
While most people may find it difficult to perform in front of 110,000 fans, Wagner has shown the ability to thrive under pressure and scrutiny throughout his sporting experiences.
While he may take a few games to fully adjust to the new role, expect him to fill in very nicely for field goals and kick-offs for the Nittany Lions this season.
Photo courtesy of Harvey Levine of http://fightonstate.com.
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