When I talked with first-year Penn State WR coach Marques Hagans earlier this month inside the Lasch Building, I wasn’t expecting us to bond over Stevie Wonder, but I’m happy it happened.
Here’s how it happened.
After four years at Kent State, Dante Cephas committed to Penn State out of the transfer portal in January before Hagans came to Happy Valley.
Cephas didn’t enroll at Penn State until May, so it took a while for him to sign, seal, and deliver to Penn State.
The great Stevie Wonder has a 1970 hit titled “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours), and I was sure to mention Wonder and the song in my question to Hagans about Cephas.
Here’s the ensuing exchange.
“That’s a good song,” Hagans said with a smile.
“It is a great song,” I replied. “Not my favorite of his, but anyway.
“What’s your favorite?” Hagans asked.
“What about ‘Ribbon in the Sky?'” Hagans said.
“He’s got a ton of them,” I said.
“That’s a very popular wedding song,” Hagans replied. “Alright, I’m sorry.” He said, still smiling.”
Hagans had nothing to apologize for. I greatly enjoyed the exchange.
Ok, let’s talk about Dante Cephas now.
Adding Cephas to the receiver’s room makes plenty of sense.
For one, he’s an in-state product.
Cephas played his high school football at Penn Hills in the Pittsburgh area, where he and now-Penn State teammate Daequan Hardy were part of a state championship team in 2018. From there, Cephas went to Kent State, where he had a successful four-year career, highlighted by a 2021 campaign in which he picked up 1,240 yards and nine touchdowns on 82 catches.
Penn State came into this season needing to fill the voids left by Parker Washington (NFL Draft) and Mitchell Tinsley (out of eligibility) in the receiver’s room, and adding Cephas was one step James Franklin and his staff took in doing that.
So what does Franklin think of Cephas?
“He’s got a personality that comes in and matches our locker room,” Franklin told reporters inside the Lasch Building. “He’s got a lot of humility and doesn’t talk a whole lot. From Pennsylvania and has friends on the team; those things help with the adjustment. … So far, so good.”
For Hagans, Cephas being a veteran and having a positive personality make him an asset.
“I think he adds a presence about him that the guys really embrace,” Hagans said. “Because he’s been out there. He’s been in the trenches. He has game experience, and he’s just a fun guy to be around. You know, he’s one of those guys that guys gravitate to. So, I would say, a couple weeks ago, he was the new guy, but now, I think he’s one of us. I think the guys have embraced him as such.”
Now, even with Cephas, Penn State’s receivers room is a question mark for many who follow the team. The team’s projected No. 1 receiver, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, has been starting games for Penn State dating back to 2020. But with Washington, Tinsley and Jahan Dotson all being ahead of him over the past three seasons, KLS hasn’t had a chance to be “the guy” at Penn State, and assuming he is “the guy” in 2023, it remains to be seen how he’ll handle it.
Florida State transfer Malik McClain comes to Penn State with a lot of upside, but through two seasons, his college football career has amounted to 306 yards, so he’s lacking polish for now.
Penn State’s starting quarterback– likely Drew Allar– has never started a game, so there’s a lack of experience on that end, too.
In short, Penn State’s receivers group is talented and has the potential to do big things, but it’s unproven.
For Hagans, Cephas will make the group more competitive, which will be beneficial.
“I think he’s also going to raise the level of competition, which is important,” Hagans said. “The higher the level of competition goes, the better the group becomes. And, so, the more guys that we can add and the more guys become consistent and competitive, the better our group will be.”
Hagans said he feels Cephas is “gonna do really well.”
“What that role is, I don’t know,” Hagans said. “That’ll be determined by him. But I’m really glad we have him.”
It took a while for Cephas to sign, but Hagans is happy that he’s a Nittany Lion.
“I’m really excited that he’s a part of our group now,” he said. “Signed, sealed, and delivered.”