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Penn State Football: Looking at the Future of ‘LBU’

Anybody who knows anything about Penn State football knows that “Linebacker U” is the school’s most famous nickname.

How it got that nickname is easy to explain. From Jack Ham to Micah Parsons, Penn State has churned out great linebackers for decades, and that doesn’t look to be stopping anytime soon, if ever.

So what does the future of Linebacker U bring?

We don’t know the answer to that yet, but nonetheless, here’s a list of the linebackers Penn State has signed or committed to its 2022, ‘23 and ‘24 recruiting classes.

ANTHONY SPECA (‘24)

Let’s start with the most recent linebacker commit.

Speca, who committed to Penn State last week, is an in-state player who comes from a winning background. In his three years at Pittsburgh Central Catholic, the team has gone to the district championship game each time and won the title in 2020.

In his scouting report of Speca, 247Sports National Recruiting Analyst Brian Dohn wrote that he’s a “highly productive player,” who could see the field early in his college career.

“Physically advanced and possesses strength and mentality to get on field quickly in college,” Dohn wrote. “Muscular build throughout frame. Plays middle linebacker in Central Catholic’s 4-3 scheme. Excels as a downhill player in shooting gaps and disrupting plays. Playing style build as a run stopper who is physical between the tackles.”

TA’MERE ROBINSON (‘23)

Why not keep it in western Pennsylvania? Robinson is another guy that made a name for himself in Pittsburgh. Unlike Speca, Robinson played high school football in the city league, not the WPIAL.

Robinson had an excellent, albeit somewhat short, career at Brashear. An injury in October of his junior year ended his 2021 season, and Robinson didn’t play at all as a senior. So there are reasonable concerns for a guy who hasn’t played a competitive football game in what will be almost two years come September adjusting to the Big Ten. But when Robinson’s on, he’s electric, and he’s capable of playing anywhere from the defensive line to the defensive backfield.

As Dohn noted in his report, Robinson’s player that might not stay at linebacker for much longer.

“Frame and build offer a position versatility as an edge who can grow into defensive lineman,” Dohn wrote. “Multi-sport athlete competes in track and field (shot put and relay) and basketball as well. Saw live in camp setting and has length and does not shy away from competing. Had junior season end in mid-October and underwent surgery to repair MCL and ACL. Has drive and determination to come back strong. Lines up as edge, safety and slot corner for Brashear. Agile, athletic and instinctual.”

TONY ROJAS (‘23)

The second half of “TNT,” which is what Robinson and Rojas call themselves, Rojas is Penn State’s highest-rated of three linebacker signees in the 2023 class. The four-star from Fairfax, Virginia, is Penn State’s third-highest-rated signee per 247 and the highest-rated among Penn State’s defensive players from the cycle. Rojas gives people plenty to be excited about. He played dominant football for Fairfax on both sides, He finished his senior season with video game numbers: 72.5 tackles, 13 sacks, 19 quarterback hurries and five forced fumbles according to Gatorade’s release for Rojas, the Gatorade Player of the Year for Virginia. Offensively, Rojas rushed for 2,240 yards and 38 touchdowns.

That’s pretty good.

Rojas was the second Penn State signee in two years to be honored by Gatorade with state player of the year. In 2021, Nick Singleton won Pennsylvania’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the National Gatorade Player of the Year.

Dohn wrote that Rojas has “verified size with plus length and speed with multi-sport profile.”

“Has plenty of room for frame growth and can easily add 25 pounds without losing athletic traits,” Dohn wrote. “Impact player in high school as linebacker/edge rusher and running back.”

Dohn wrote that Rojas is “best suited to play inside linebacker but possesses some traits to play outside.”

If Rojas plays inside, he and Speca could form a solid 1-2 punch. If he plays outside, he could form one with Robinson, and “TNT” would be in full effect.

KAVEION KEYS (‘23)

Keys, a four-star from Varina High School in Richmond, Virginia, is Penn State’s most unlikely linebacker signee of this cycle and perhaps the most unlikely signee at any position. Keys committed to North Carolina in August and stayed committed until December. When Keys de-committed, Penn State, which was a finalist for Keys, became the favorite, and Keys closed the deal on signing day. But coach James Franklin revealed some interesting nuggets about what took place behind the scenes in Keys’s recruitment.

Franklin told reporters in his post-Signing Day presser that when Keys finally committed to Penn State, he initially wanted to sign in February, not December.

“I’m like “oh my gosh, here we go again,” Franklin said. That was part of kind of the roller coaster. Kind of just sat there and kind of went through our process and how we go about things and how we felt like it was in his and our best interests for him to sign in the early signing period. I said, ‘if you think it’s crazy now if you hold this thing on to the next signing period, it’s going to get even crazier.’”

Like Rojas, Keys also has room to grow, both literally and metaphorically. Keys is 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, and Dohn wrote that he “possesses the frame to add 20-25 pounds and not lose agility, speed or quickness.”

“Defensive leader for state title-winning team as a junior,” Dohn wrote. “Productive two-way player who plays on edge of 3-4 defense. High level athlete also plays receiver. Gets off quickly at snap. Shows quick hands to keep offensive linemen from getting inside. Can re-direct and move along line of scrimmage. Has speed to get around tackle on blitzes. Has burst to get across the face of offensive tackle. Plays with energy and effort, and is a competitor.”

Like Robinson, Keys is a player that could potentially be a defensive end for Penn State when all is said and done.

ABDUL CARTER

Not much needs said about Carter. To say the four-star from LaSalle College High School near Philly has lived up to the hype since coming to Penn State would he an understatement. He finished the season with the team lead in sacks (6.5), tackles for loss (10.5) and finished second in solo tackles (36). Carter became one of four finalists for the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award. Carter is awesome, and he’s only just begun.

KEON WYLIE

We saw what Carter could do almost right away.

The same can’t be said for Wylie, another Philly-area product.

Like most freshman, Wylie, a former three-star from Philly’s acclaimed Imhotep Institute, spent  his first year learning the ropes without getting much playing time. A player like Carter makes it easy to forget about others from the 2022 Class, and Wylie might slip the minds of many Penn State fans. But he doesn’t slip the minds of Penn State’s coaching staff. The day Penn State signed Wylie, assistant head coach and defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith made a bold statement.

“I think Keon Wylie may be the best player on the defensive side,” Smith, who is Penn State’s No. 1 recruiter for the Philly area, said.

The defensive side for the 2022 class includes Carter, as well as five-star defensive end Dani Dennis-Sutton and others. So that’s pretty high praise. Wylie was a defensive end in high school, but moved to inside linebacker after getting to Penn State. We’ll see how well he adjusts to the linebacker position.

All in all, the future of “Linebacker U” looks solid.”

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