Under the Radar: Five Penn State Players to Watch in 2020

Mark Wogenrich

Penn State coach James Franklin loves the roster depth his staff has built for 2020, the product of recruiting classes born from the 2016-17 successes.

Who might emerge from the roster to become major players for the Lions this season? Here are five players to watch.

Hakeem Beamon

The defensive tackle played in three games last season to get a taste of college football while preserving his redshirt. His fellow linemen see a player with the strength and quickness inside to make inroads in the tackle rotation.

Tackle Antonio Shelton even compared Beamon to former Penn State tackle Kevin Givens, who is getting on the field for the San Francisco 49ers this season.

"He's a little bit lighter than Kevin was [Beamon is 6-3, 288], but Hakeem is quick off the ball," Shelton said. "He's strong and he's got very precise and quick hands."

Jaquan Brisker

Junior college players often make the biggest strides in their second seasons after transferring, a point Franklin made regarding Brisker, who transferred to Penn State from Lackawanna College in Scranton.

The 6-1, 212-pound senior, who played in all 13 games last season, steps into a starting role alongside Lamont Wade. Brisker not only impresses athletically (making Bruce Feldman's 2020 "freaks" list) but also has made some impressive plays in training camp.

"There's a lot of excitement in our program for Jaquan," Franklin said. "He looks unbelievable; he's just developed so much. We all know typically you see a dramatic change of those junior college players in year two, and we see that with him. His confidence, his understanding of scheme, his athleticism, his speed, how explosive he is: He's an impressive-looking guy right now."

Des Holmes

Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein has emphasized punch techniques with his linemen, saying he wants them to be violent with their hands. Across the board, teammates stressed that Holmes is the best puncher of the group.

"He's got the strongest hands I think I've ever seen," tackle Will Fries said. "I mean, his punch is lethal."

"His punch is crazy," defensive end Jayson Oweh added.

Holmes played in all 13 games at tackle last season, primarily behind Rasheed Walker on the left side. He can play tackle and guard, though, making him a versatile sixth man on the line.

"He's going to surprise a lot of guys," Oweh said. "He's gotten really good."

Zack Kuntz

Kuntz arrived in the same recruiting class as fellow tight end Pat Freiermuth but needed time to break into the lineup. This year, having filled out his 6-7 frame to 258 pounds, Kuntz said he's ready to form a "dynamic duo" with Freiermuth.

"He's starting to put it all together, with that physical strength becoming a part of it," tight ends coach Tyler Bowen said. "Zack is a super sharp guy. I've really seen him take a step in that area this training camp.

"He's always been a very gifted guy athletically but now seeing the work he has put in with our nutritionist and everything to get to this point. ... His approach is as good as it's ever been."

Cam Sullivan-Brown
Cam Sullivan-Brown (Penn State Athletics)

Cam Sullivan-Brown

Having tested the NCAA transfer portal in 2019, Sullivan-Brown returned poised to make an impact on Penn State's receivers room last season. He did, catching eight passes in four games before an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year.

Now, Sullivan-Brown is that player some seem to forget behind veteran Jahan Dotson, 6-2 sophomore Daniel George and freshmen TJ Jones, Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith. But he's an experienced receiver on whom quarterback Sean Clifford can rely while developing a relationship with the freshmen.

George said Sullivan-Brown returned "much stronger and much faster," something he called "really surprising." Though he worked out at home alone during the spring shutdown, Sullivan-Brown said he feels "like I have a great ability to make plays."

"The way [offensive coordinator Kirk] Ciarrocca's offense is set up, it's explosive," Sullivan-Brown said. "I just have the opportunity to step in there, catch the ball, make plays, score touchdowns and hopefully push us to that championship."

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