Penn State coach James Franklin remembers watching a young man named Clifford play QB at one of the school’s camps years ago.
No, no, not that one.
The surname has been well-known to Penn State fans for what feels like ages.
That’s because Sean Clifford was at Penn State for what felt like ages. Clifford was at PSU for six seasons and started at QB for four. This past April, Clifford went to the Packers in the fifth-round of the NFL Draft, and this past Sunday, he made his regular-season NFL debut.
The Clifford name is living on at Penn State, and that’s why Sean’s younger brother, Liam, couldn’t watch much of Packers-Bears.
Liam Clifford was instead watching another game, one that had already happened: Penn State-Delaware.
But Liam got done watching back the film in time to see Sean’s debut.
Less than 48 hours later, Liam was asked about his big bro, and Rich Scarcella of the Reading Eagle specifically asked him if if he ever gets tired of being known as Sean’s little brother.
“I guess a little bit, here and there,” Liam told reporters over Zoom, “when people call me his little brother, yeah. But it’s just more motivation to make a name for myself. It doesn’t bother me because he set a great example and he’s a great role model for me as well.”
Franklin feels that Sean’s influence has helped Liam become a leader on this Penn State team.
“I think he learned a lot from his brother’s experience,” Franklin told reporters at his weekly post-Wednesday practice availability Sept. 13. “So it’s kind of like having an older brother who played in the NFL or an older brother who played major college football. There’s value in that, and then even more so, when the guy did it at the same school and you were able to go through the process with him and understand the culture and the expectations. So, in some ways, it’s like a coach’s kid that just is way ahead of the curve compared to most people because he’s been around it pretty much his whole life.”
“We have a lot of confidence in him.”
I asked James Franklin about WR Liam Clifford and how he’s grown as both a player and a leader in Year 3 at Penn State. pic.twitter.com/GycTxGVqWc
— Joe Smeltzer (@joesmeltzer775) September 14, 2023
Liam and Sean are similar, as one could imagine.
They look alike, are both Penn Staters have ventured into the business world away from football.
But there are differences, too, and one of them is that, despite coming to Penn State’s camp as a quarterback, Liam’s been a receiver for a while now.
As Franklin remembers it, Liam came to Penn State’s camp when he was in the ninth grade. If that timeline is accurate, Sean would have been going into his freshman season at PSU.
While Sean was working his way up Penn State’s depth chart, eventually becoming QB1 ahead of the 2019 season, Liam was making a name for himself at big brother’s alma mater, Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School.
Clifford led the Greater Catholic South Conference in all receiving categories his senior season and earned the league’s Player of the Year honors. The year before that, he was the Greater Catholic South’s co-Receiver of the Year. Clifford was a three-star recruit according to 247Sports’ composite ratings and committed to Penn State in October of his junior season.
After arriving at Penn State, Clifford redshirted his first year.
Last year, he played in 12 of Penn State’s 13 games, making eight catches for 89 yards.
Ahead of Penn State’s season opener against West Virginia at Beaver Stadium earlier this month, Clifford wasn’t expected to get the start.
Penn State announces its starting lineups with recordings of the players saying their names, hometowns and high school.
For the most part, fans heard the names they were expected to hear.
“Drew Allar, Medina, Ohio, Medina High School”
“Nicholas Singleton, Shillington, Pennsylvania, Governor Mifflin High School”
“Olu Fashanu, Waldorf, Maryland, Gonzaga College High School.”
Most of them probably didn’t expect to hear “Liam Clifford, Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Xavier High School.”
Clifford described the moment as “surreal.”
“Something I’ve always dreamt of,” he said. “Watching Penn State when Sean was here and since I’ve been here, I’ve wanted to be one of those guys that can have his name go up on the board. That’s something everyone always dreams of when they step on campus. It was super cool. And I’m excited to keep it rolling.”
For Franklin, Clifford’s reliability has helped shape the way the coaches see him.
“He’s a guy that I think the coaching staff and the players feel like they can depend on,” Franklin said, “that he can make plays, that he’s consistent. He’s done a really good job, I think, over the last year of taking care of his body, because in the past, I think that’s been a little thing that’s kind of held him up. He’s had some kind of nagging injuries that have happened to him. But he’s just doing a much better job of all the things you have to do to be a consistent football player.”
Clifford’s stats through two starts have been modest.
He’s caught four passes for 25 yards.
But there are 10 games left, and Clifford isn’t going to let stats affect the way he prepares.
Whether he has “three hundred yards or zero yards,” Clifford is going to go about his business the same way.
But having some big games statistically wouldn’t hurt, and Franklin expects those to come.
“I think he’s going to have a big year for us,” Franklin said. “I think he’s going to have some breakout games and things like that. We have a lot of confidence in him and a lot of belief in him.”