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‘I Feel Like he’s Going to be Great’: PSU Players, Coaches Talk LB Abdul Carter Ahead of Rose Bowl Game

Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Abdul Carter (11) November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

PSU fans bought into the hype of true freshman linebacker Abdul Carter early in the season, long before the team found out it’d play Utah in the Rose Bowl Jan. 2.

It took Ji’Ayir Brown a little longer to be sold.

It didn’t take long for Brown, a fifth-year senior and one of Penn State’s leaders, to notice that Carter wasn’t lacking in confidence.

“When Abdul came in,” Brown told reporters Friday, “it was funny because Abdul had this kind of persona to him that, like, ‘I can play.’ I’m a ‘you have to show me’ kind of guy. Young guys come in, and they come from high school, and they think they can play on this level.”

It wasn’t until Penn State played Minnesota Oct. 23 in the school’s annual White Out game that Brown realized how good Carter already is. Carter started the game at MIKE linebacker and paired with veteran Curtis Jacobs, who played the WILL position. Penn State beat Minnesota 45-17, and Jacobs finished the game with 14 tackles. Carter finished with eight and had half a sack.

Brown loved it.

“Him and Curt were just… that was just crazy,” Brown said. “The kind of moves he made, and then I started hearing the comparisons with him and Micah (Parsons).”

The Parsons comparisons were inevitable. Parsons wore No. 11 at Penn State, and Carter is currently wearing it. Both are linebackers. Both are freak athletes with great closing speed who can sack quarterbacks and punish ball carriers alike. Parsons, now a Dallas Cowboy, is one of the best players in the NFL, and Carter probably isn’t at that level yet. 

But he’s pretty good. Carter finished the regular season with the team lead in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (10.5) and finished second in solo tackles (35). Carter was one of four semifinalists for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award.

For another veteran of Penn State’s defense, Adisa Isaac, Carter getting the famous No. 11– which has been worn by Penn State greats such as Parsons, LaVar Arrington and NaVorro Bowman– was an early sign that he was going to be something.

“Not everybody can get that number,” Isaac told reporters Friday, “so there’s obviously a reason he was given that number. So it’s really just trusting the process. He’s young right now, but I feel like he’s going to be great.”

Carter’s teammates weren’t the only ones who were asked about him this week. His defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, talked about Carter’s progression in his media availability Friday.

“Early in the season, he flashed, and then the next week, you could kind of see that maybe he tried to do things his own way,” Diaz said. “And then the next game he kind of locked in flashed again. I think it took him one more game to really understand, ‘OK. I just need to do my job.’

“With his skill set, if he just does his job, he will be noticed on the field.”

The head coach also talked about No. 11. 

“Yeah, you know, he came in, for a freshman, very mature, very focused and very driven,” James Franklin said in a joint press conference with Utah HC Kyle Whittingham Sunday. “All the freshmen say they want to play, but not all of them really understand what it takes. He had a very mature approach from the time he stepped on campus. He was not a guy that came in early, which sometimes can make that even more challenging.”

Franklin also pointed out that Carter was already “college ready in terms of his body.” Carter is 6-foot-3, 233 pounds and jacked. 

“He came in already kind of put together,” Franklin said.” I think the local media know that — I talked about earlier in the year, when I went to do the home visit, he literally had a bench press and a power clean in the living room as soon as you walked in the house, which I think mom was happy when he came to Penn State, that she could get her living room back.”

When Carter got to Penn State– which didn’t happen until this past summer because Carter didn’t enroll early– it didn’t take long for him to “pick up the system,” Franklin said.

“He’s got the ability to find the ball,” Franklin said, “which at the linebacker position, you can teach those things, but obviously, some guys kind of naturally have it, and some guys got to work at it, and he’s got the ability to find the ball.

He’s gotten better at that as the year has gone on, and then what he just has, he’s got the ability to burst. Once he makes his mind up, he’s got a burst towards the ball, which is unlike many that I’ve had and many that I’ve seen.”

Now, Carter will play in the “Granddaddy of Them All.” He has a chance to show off his skills for people who haven’t seen him before. 

Utah knows how good he is. If Carter puts his talents on display, fans who don’t follow Penn State will see a stud. If all goes according to plan, fans who watch Penn State next year and the year after that will see an even better player.

“I believe he’s the best linebacker, definitely in his class, if not the country,” Brown said. 

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