STATE COLLEGE – According to Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin and his staff implement forms of adversity throughout parts of the year to test the players’ mental stamina and focus.
While the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic has caused a seismic shift in college football heading into the new season, Freiermuth believes the changes in protocol will prove beneficial when the team returns to the field.
“Coach Franklin is big on putting the team in ways of adversity throughout summer, winter workouts and camp,” Freiermuth said. “Obviously, this is an unplanned adversity, but I think he’s somewhere, kind of being like, ‘I’m interested to see how my team is going to handle this.’ I feel like the team is going to handle it very well. We have handled it very well, and I think we’re itching to get back.”
Over the last two seasons, Freiermuth has established himself as one of the nation’s premier tight ends. In two years, he’s amassed 875 yards receiving and 15 touchdowns. After a freshman season in which he recorded 368 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in 13 games, he accumulated 507 yards receiving and seven touchdowns as a sophomore.
“Pat’s one of those guys who doesn’t have to do a lot,” Penn State safety Lamont Wade said. “Honestly, he makes everything look so easy and effortless. It was like that when he first came in, being a young captain and starting. Watching him go out there — and competing with him, going up against him — you can tell it’s pretty effortless for him. With him being a hard worker, he takes advantage of it every single time.”
Freiermuth, a 6-foot-5, 259-pound junior, pointed to his progression as a route-runner as his biggest area of development during his two-year career at Penn State.
“Coming in, I was awful,” he said. “Looking back on the film (from) freshman year, I still don’t know how I played. … Seeing my growth as a route-runner, I would say I’m pretty proud of myself for that. I always have to continue to grow.”
Freiermuth posted his 875 career yards under former Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne. In December, he accepted the head coaching position at Old Dominion University. Later in the month, Penn State announced Minnesota offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca accepted the same position with the Nittany Lions.
“I love the offense,” Freiermuth said. “It’s very simple, and it’s very effective. I think it’s going to allow us to go out there and play fast. Obviously, without spring ball, there are some question marks about how fast we’re going to be able to pick it up, but on these Zoom meetings, we’ve picked it up really fast. Coach Ciarrocca’s made it really simple.”
In addition to position and Zoom video conference meetings, weekly quizzes and tests, Freiermuth has taken his in-home training to another level. He said he wakes up at 7:45 a.m. each day to eat breakfast before lifting weights outside with his trainer. In the afternoon, he works on route-running and catching with an old teammate.
“My high school quarterback is actually throwing to me,” Freiermuth said. “He’s the starting quarterback at Trinity College. He was rookie of the year (in 2018), so he’s a great quarterback. I’ve been really working out with him a lot.”
As one of the game’s top tight ends, Freiermuth knows what awaits him following another successful college season. Rather than allow himself to become distracted with NFL draft boards and position rankings, he said he knows none of it matters if he doesn’t produce. He took matters into his own hands to help limit the noise and distractions.
“I’m aware of those things and aware of the preseason hype and all of that, but I’ve actually deleted my social media a week ago just to kind of stay away from that and not get my head wrapped around that,” Freiermuth said. “I need to focus on my being at Penn State and just take full advantage of this.
“Because if I don’t have a good season this year or if I don’t perform, it’s all down the drain. It’s just preseason hype, and I have to block out the noise and continue to do what my process has been ever since I got to Penn State. To work and do what I need to do to become better and help the team. I need to take that same mentality to this season, and hopefully, I continue to progress in my career.”