UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It will be a homecoming this weekend for Penn State wide receiver KJ Hamler, who hails from Pontiac, Mich., less than 50 miles away from Michigan’s Ann Arbor home.
It was Michigan who recruited and offered a scholarship to Hamler as a sophomore in high school, but come Saturday, Hamler will be wearing blue and white rather than the maize and blue of the Wolverines.
“It’s always exciting to go home,” Hamler said after practice Wednesday night. “I got a lot of boys on Michigan, so going against them is going to be fun and intense.”
The matchup between No. 14 Penn State and No. 5 Michigan is at Michigan Stadium, which has been a house of horrors for the Nittany Lions in the past. Penn State hasn’t won at Michigan since 2009 and got trounced 49-10 during their last visit there in 2016.
This year, though, Hamler seeks to be a big factor in front of 15 friends and members of his family who have tickets to the game. And it’s playing the slot where the receiver has played a major role for the Nittany Lions so far this season.
“With KJ having such a dominant role for us and such big play potential, obviously, we feel like the slot really helps with that,” James Franklin said. “The issue with the slot is you can get bracket coverage now, where you have an outside linebacker playing in- or outside leverage with a safety overtop playing inside or outside leverage, and they’re basically bracketing him.”
For Hamler though, it’s as simple as just playing his game, not making a big deal about being a difference-maker or making big plays.
“I just go out there and try to do my job. I just try to get open to make it easier for Trace (McSorley) as quick as I can.” Hamler said.
Penn State will need a total team effort on Saturday to defeat Michigan and have Hamler return home a winner. That effort starts early in the week with the scout team replicating the fine details of the Wolverines’ dominant defense.
“Scout team is doing a great job this week replicating what the Michigan defense does and how they play us,” Hamler said.
Michigan will deploy a tough, man defense against the Nittany Lions offense, and it will be up to Hamler to break that coverage and get open for McSorley to help move the ball downfield.
“They play man coverage way better,” Hamler said. “They’ve got a lot of athletes on that defense, people with great technique, great speed. It’s going to be a challenge, but we gotta overcome that.”
More from Franklin:
• On special teams growing pains: “Obviously, when you have a coaching change, and you get personnel changes, staff changes, it takes some time to work through those things, as well, and that’s why I think consistency on your staff is so, so important.”
• On Pat Freiermuth having four touchdowns in five games: “It’s been great for him. I’ve told you from the beginning, he’s always kinda handled himself like a vet, and it never really seemed too big for him. Like any player, as you have success, it builds confidence. It builds confidence into this weekend, it builds confidence into his future, no doubt about it.”
• On adversity: “I had two really interesting conversations today. I had a really good conversation with Mike Gesicki. He called, and we had a really good conversation about some of the adversity he had early in his career and being able to overcome that adversity. He watches every game and wished the guys good luck. I got a buddy of mine who I played college football with, his family’s going through a tough time. … I try to express to my guys all the time, it’s a journey. No different than life and no different than football, it’s not always smooth. I see our guys growing, I see our team growing, not as fast as I would like it at times.”
• On Ricky Slade: “He obviously did some really good things early on, got banged up a few weeks back, trying to work him back in. We need him. Journey (Brown) is starting to really come on for us, as well, and obviously with losing Mark Allen, we need those two guys to step up for us.
• On practice style this week: “Our mentality this week has been we have to fight through those. They’re going to grab, they’re going to tug, they’re going to hold, and it’s smart on their part. We’ve got to fight through it, and one of two things has to happen: we got to fight through it and make the play, or we got to fight through it so hard that the holding, the pull or the tug becomes obvious and gets called. I’d rather make it harder in practice… than what it’s going to be in a game.”