As Penn State gears up for another season, where stars like Jahan Dotson and Jaquan Brisker will look to cement their legacies in Penn State history, there is also plenty of that history on the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff in the form of former lettermen.
Players who spent their college careers suiting up for the blue and white, running out of the same tunnel Dotson, Brisker, and the rest of the 2021 team will go through in a few weeks for the home opener against Ball State.
James Franklin has built a staff from his connections from all over the college football world, but he’s also recognized the importance of Penn Staters who have a deep connection to the program from their time as players.
Former lettermen on Franklin’s staff include Terry Smith (associate head coach/cornerbacks coach), Ty Howle (tight ends coach), Deion Barnes (graduate assistant), Wendy Laurent (assistant offensive line coach) and Alan Zemaitis (assistant recruiting coordinator).
Going into his eighth season as a member of the coaching staff, Smith was of course a standout receiver for the Nittany Lions from 1988-91.
I caught up with Terry at the team’s Media Day on Saturday to talk about the importance of having Penn State lettermen as a part of the staff, what he learned going through the COVID-altered 2020 season, and more.
As always, thanks to Terry for taking the time to chat.
What did you learn about yourself as a coach going through such an altered season last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic?
TS: “You just had to learn to do things a different way, to teach a different way. Whether that was Zoom or just teaching at a distance like we’re talking right now. It really helped me realize that you don’t have to do things a certain way just because that’s the way you’ve done them your whole life. I think that helped our program change some things and do some things a different way. That’s going to help us advance in the future.”
Does the team’s process of preparation have to change at all knowing your opening up the season against a Big Ten opponent?
TS: “No, our process is the same. Each week we’re trying to go 1-0. That opponent who is first, they’re the most important part of our focus. Training camp right now is to make sure we have a foundation set for the season. Whether it’s Wisconsin or someone else, all our focus is going on 1-0 to start things off.”
How would you assess the cornerbacks group that you’re working with this season?
TS: “I feel really good about the whole back end of the defensive backfield. With the corners, I feel like I have a lot of depth. There’s six guys that have played a lot of college football, including Johnny Dixon, who played at South Carolina. I’m excited for the competition this camp and we’ll let the field sort through all of that. Especially excited for Tariq Castro-Fields, who’s played a ton of football here and has been successful. Joey Porter had a breakout year last year. Daequan Hardy is our returning starter at the star spot. There’s a lot of guys competing to get back on that playing field. No job is given. They all have to earn it.”
How important is it to have guys like yourself, Deion Barnes and Ty Howle on staff, who have been a part of this program as players and might understand what it means to play here just a little bit more?
TS: “It’s essential. We’re former Penn State lettermen. Who knows this program better than us? We played on this field at Beaver Stadium. We walked those same paths in the hallway and the locker room. We can tell players what Penn State can offer from personal experiences. I like to give my testimony: my dad went here and is a ’68 grad, I’m a ’91 grad, my son was an ’07 grad, my daughter Haley is here in the WorkLink program, my nephew (sophomore running back) Tank Smith is on the team. Penn State is a great place and my family is a testimony of how great Penn State is. When you come to Penn State, it’s a 40-year decision, not just a four-year decision.”
You mentioned Tank, what’s it like to have him a part of the team and getting to be around him as he gets his own experience within Penn State?
TS: “My nephew, he’s doing a great job over there (on offense). He knows his role on this team and understands it really well. He’s a major contributor for us. I’m happy for him and happy he’s here.”