After losing a talented group of players following last season, PSU fans were uncertain of how this year’s group of receivers could replace the talent. Last year’s team was led by valuable players like Derrick Williams, Deon Butler, and Jordan Norwood who were an effective part of the successful offense.
Although there may have been some concern over how the current players would step up in place of them this season, this year’s group of receivers has proved that they have the ability and potential to lead the offense. This season’s assembly includes Brett Brackett, Derek Moye, and a walk-on with an inspiring story, Graham Zug.
Zug, a senior who was red shirted his freshman year, has come a long way since he joined the team. He has become a key player on this year’s squad and continues to increase his impact as a receiver.
“As a walk-on, I knew that I had to work real hard to prove myself to the coaches that I could play here. Obviously, you can’t go downhill as a walk-on, you can only improve as a player and move up the depth chart.”
Coming from a family of Penn State graduates, Graham always knew that he wanted to attend PSU.
“I always wanted to come to PSU, but since I never was offered a scholarship to come here during my high school years I was unsure if I was going to come here. I was actually at Delaware, with a scholarship offered, a chance to be a starter, and my locker, gloves, etc. all laid out in front of me. And the locker was right next to my state champion teammate QB Jarryd Moyer.
"Then, out of nowhere Coach Kenney called and said he wanted to come watch me play a basketball game and sit down and talk with me about coming to PSU. He came to my game the next day, and told me that I could play here, I would just have to prove myself.
"I talked to my parents and they told me to go to PSU, its been your dream, don’t sell yourself short. So, then I turned down the scholarship to Delaware and came to PSU.”
Clearly his decision was a wise one.
Since becoming a part of the team, the coaching staff selected him as the recipient of the 2009 Red Worrell Award, presented annually to the offensive player who has best demonstrated traits such as conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude, and improvement during spring practice. So far this season, Zug has 21 receptions, 257 yards, and two touchdowns.
In order to get prepared for a game, Graham says that he just focuses on getting ready and staying relaxed.
“I am not a big fan of getting extremely hyped or anxious because I feel like it is easier to lose focus. One thing I do before every game is I sneak out my phone out in the locker room before pregame warm-ups and I text my dad something along the lines of 'Love you, enjoy the game, its show time.' Then after warm-ups, I check my phone before going out to the game to see what inspiration my dad has for me. It’s just a little something to get me ready.”
His favorite song, called “Somewhere I Belong” by Linkin Park, reminds him of how far he has come since becoming a Nittany Lion.
“It was a song the PSU played when I was being recruited, and since Penn State is where I dreamt of coming, it just gives me the chills every time I hear it.”
On a more personal note, he enjoys relaxing with his friends and girlfriend, Lauren, in his free time. He also likes to spend time with his family and play intense video games with his friends, which he says can get pretty competitive. Golfing is also a favorite past time of his, and during the winter he loves to ski.
When asked about his most memorable moment in a game, he recalls when he scored five touchdowns in one half in a high school game against his team's rival. He also mentions his reception against Ohio State last year that led to a victory in the Horseshoe—now who could forget that night?
When asked who is the funniest guy on the team, Graham says, “Drew Astorino because he is just a funny crazy kid who can always make you laugh. There are so many funny stories with him I cannot choose one. There are some funny moments when my roommate Jesse Alfreno and I beat Drew and Collin Wagner in Xbox 360 in NHL '10. Those two are really bad at the game and need to practice a lot more before they play us again. Although it is quite hilarious how frustrated Drew gets.”
The best advice that he says JoePa has ever given him is simply, “keep working hard, you are beginning to prove yourself,” which is enough motivation for him to work harder on and off the field.
Aside from an early loss to Iowa, Zug continues to keep a positive outlook for the rest of the season. To win the Big 10, he says Penn State needs to take it one game at a time and focus on playing the Nittany Lions' best as a team.
“I would say my goal is to become more of a leader and help the team stay focused and committed to being the best we possibly can. I also want to limit my mistakes and help the team succeed.”
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