The Mindset Doesn’t Change

Jake Pinegar enters his fifth season in Happy Valley. Photo by Steven Manuel/The Football Letter

Jake Pinegar has played a lot of football for Penn State. Thirty-seven games to be exact.

Last season, he had to take a little bit of a back seat for the first time in his career.

After attempting double-digit field goals his first three seasons with the Nittany Lions, including 24 as a true freshman in 2018, Pinegar was a backup to the do-it-all Jordan Stout in 2021.

Stout, who was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of this past spring’s NFL Draft, assumed the lead role in all three phases of the kicking game in 2021 (field goals, kick-offs and extra points). He was was the Big Ten’s Punter of The Year.

That slid Pinegar down the pecking order, and he attempted just two field goals all season. Both came in the Outback Bowl loss to Arkansas, where he made one attempt and missed the other.

While his playing time dipped, Pinegar’s mindset, however, didn’t change.

“To me, nothing changed much,” Pinegar said at Penn State’s media day. “I’m always working to be the best version of myself. When (Jordan) kind of took that larger role last year, I didn’t take my foot off the gas. I kept working and kept striving to do as much as I could. This offseason, I think I’ve taken a a big leap and made some big strides.” 

Complacency has never set in for the Ankeny, Iowa, native.

“I’ve worked a lot on coming through the ball more, trusting my target line and swing” Pinegar said. “I’ve worked a lot on kick-offs as well. Just want to improve my range on everything so far.” 

It’s also important not to forget that despite last year’s diminished role, Pinegar has had a productive career for Penn State up to this point.

The redshirt senior ranks fourth on the program’s all-time career extra points list (138), sixth in field goal percentage (74.0), 10th in field goal attempts (51), 11th in makes (37) and is eighth on the all-time scoring list (244 points).

He’s also just the 14th Nittany Lion to ever reach at-least 200 career points and broke. the Penn State freshman scoring record in 2018 with 101 points, passing Kevin Kelly’s previous mark of 99.

That experience will come in handy as Pinegar competes in camp with redshirt freshman Sander Sahaydak for the lead field goal role.

While new Special Teams Coordinator Stacy Collins said there isn’t a specific timeline in place right now to name a starter, both Pinegar and Sahaydak have impressed so far in camp.

“It’s been a great competition,” Collins said at Saturday’s media day. “They’ve both struck the ball extremely well the last four days. We need to trend and continue to do that. That competition has been a tight one and excited to see how both those guys prepared themselves through spring. They trended extremely well through the spring and finishing through the spring game.”

Whether he wins the starting job or not, Pinegar is looked at as one of the leaders in the team.

That comes with having been around the program for five years now and the level of professionalism he’s demonstrated every day, regardless of where he’s listed on the depth chart.

“This is my fifth year, so I’ve been around this program for a long time,” Pinegar said. “There are a couple of us with the special teams unit as well that have been here a while. We’ve seen this program be successful and what it takes to reach that level, so we try to do our best to teach those younger guys what it means and what it takes to win.” 

Motivating Factors

Penn State quarterback Christian Veilleux finds motivation through “All the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here. I think that’s what drives me. Because at the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing.” Photo credit: Steve Manuel

Winter workouts. Summer camp. Fall camp. Early mornings. Late nights. Blood, sweat, and tears, as the saying goes.

Football student-athletes endure a lot.

So, what drives them and keeps them going when they don’t feel like it? Turns out, many of them have the same answer: family.

A sense of commitment, a sense of loyalty, a sense of wanting to make good on the sacrifices made on their behalf.

Look at senior linebacker Jonathan Sutherland and sophomore quarterback Christian Veilleux, for examples. Both originally from Canada, they each moved away from home as teenagers to pursue their dream of playing Division I college football.

It’s worked out for both of them, thanks in large part to their families supporting them in numerous ways.

“My journey really, being where I’m from and all the sacrifices I’ve made to come down here, I think that’s what drives me,” Veilleux said in May during a freshmen media session. “Because at the end of the day, in my mind, if I don’t make it, it’s all for nothing. My parents have sent me here, I’ve done so much, so for me, I’ve got to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.”

At 16, Veilleux moved from Ottawa and became a two-year letterman at Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland. He and his parents figured moving to the U.S. early would eventually happen. At home, he trained at Gridiron Academy, and with a trainer who helped Canadian student-athletes transition to playing Division I football or enroll at prep academies. So, he said, the path was already laid out, which explains why he didn’t need to convince his parents or put up a fight.

“My parents said, ‘Yeah, let’s send our kid away at 16 years old,’ not a lot of parents can do that, right? So for them to do that, have confidence in me … they sacrifice a lot for me, so I’ve got to get it back in return for them.”

Last season, Veilleux became the first Penn State true freshman quarterback to throw a touchdown in eight years (Christian Hackenberg). He actually threw for three scores, taking most of the snaps in a late-November home contest against Rutgers. Penn State won 28-0, and that game became known as coming amid a horrific flu bug that sidelined many players on the team.

“Thursday was a good day,” Veilleux said, recalling the lead up to Rutgers. “Friday is when everybody went down. Our whole QB room came in with the flu. Our training room looked like a hospital. Everybody had IVs hooked up to them. It looked bad, man, I didn’t know what was going to happen Saturday.”

Saturday unfolded fine for the Nittany Lions, as Veilleux finished 15-of-24 for 235 yards and no turnovers. The exact type of performance you want anytime, and especially toward the end of the schedule against a team that’s overmatched.

He wasn’t fazed, even when he slipped near the south end zone tunnel after the game. For a half-second, he stayed down, acting like he almost intended for the spill to happen. That kind of calm demeanor is the result of growing up sooner than most people your age, the result of moving away from home, and accepting an increased level of responsibility.

“I had to be smart, I had to be mature, and I had to make decisions that would keep me down there (Maryland) and keep me in school and keep playing football so it definitely made me grow up,” Veilleux said of moving away from Canada. “It definitely helped with my game. I think that’s the point where I realized I had to be more of a neutral emotional guy on the field, so not get too high, not get too low, always stay at the same level.”

You can hear more from several players, who spoke about what motivates them prior to this summer’s Lift For Life event at the Lasch Practice fields. Sutherland’s entire video focuses on this topic, while both junior safety Keaton Ellis and junior tight end Brenton Strange share what motivates them in addition to other topics. You can jump to the 3:08 and 3:15 marks, respectively, to hear Ellis and Strange share what drives them.

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