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Penn State Football All 105

Penn State All 105: Is KJ Winston About to Breakout

Beaver Stadium -- David Hague

All 105 is a Nittany Sports Now series profiling each Penn State football player. In this edition, we will be taking a look at second-year safety KJ Winston.

Before Penn State: Born Kevin Winston Jr, the Penn State Class of 2022 signee played at the legendary DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland.

It’s a high school that has helped past Penn State players, such as Cameron Wake, and is also where current Penn State defensive tackle Coziah Izzard played.

At DeMatha, Winston— also a track runner in high school— lettered all four years became a two-time team captain and team MVP.

In his senior season, Winston picked up 50 tackles, intercepted three passes, broke up 10 and recovered a fumble which he subsequently ran in for a touchdown.

His performance as a senior earned him Maryland High School Player of the Year Honors from the DC Touchdown Club.

247Sports, Rivals and On3 all had Winston as a four-star prospect, and ESPN had him as a three-star. 247, Rivals and On3 also had Winston as a top five player overall player in Maryland from his class, and ESPN ranked him 15th.

He committed to Penn State on the last day of July 2021, choosing coach James Franklin’s program over fellow Big Ten schools Maryland and Michigan State, among others.

2022: Winston burned his redshirt, playing in 12 of Penn State’s 13 games, picking up 16 tackles (11 solo) and a tackle for loss.

Where he stands: In two years, Penn State has lost two fine safeties to the NFL in current Chicago Bear Jaquan Brisker and current San Francisco 49er Ji’Ayir “Tig” Brown.

When Brisker went to the Bears, Penn State and its fans expected Brown to become the new leader of the safeties room, and that’s exactly what happened. Now, with Brown gone, there’s no clear answer to that question. But regardless of if anybody emerges as a true leader in the safeties room, Penn State has a talented group, and Winston is part of that. Jaylen Reed is also ready to make a big splash in 2023, and fifth-year senior Keaton Ellis— who coach James Franklin announced had been named a team captain after this year’s Blue-White Game— will provide stability.

On the younger side, ‘22 signees Winston, Tyrece Mills and Mekhi Flowers all have promise.

Coordinator Manny Diaz loves to use a lot of defensive backs, so Winston will have his chances to shine. All he has to do is make the most of them.

A quote by Winston: “I feel like the physicality I can bring to the secondary and just being a competitor (is what I can bring). I feel like that’s the main thing. Just being a competitor back there to help the team out.” — Winston to reporters at this spring’s Blue-White Game.

A quote about Winston: “He has the length, we think, that can play safety. We think he can also play the star, the nickel corner position, and there is part of me that would like to start him at corner to see if he could do that.” — James Franklin on Winston’s signing day in December 2021.

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