DARYLL CLARK HAD TO LEARN HOW TO BE patient. After all, he was the starting quarterback for the freshman team at Ursuline High School in Youngstown, Ohio, and then led the varsity for three years. "He never had to really wait when it came to football," says his mom, Sheryl. But during his senior year he signed a letter of intent to play for Penn State, only to find out that the combination of his grades and test scores would not be enough to make him eligible to play for the Nittany Lions in 2004. He enrolled at Kiski Prep in Saltsburg, Pa., where he studied to improve his ACT score and again started at quarterback.
Clark finally got the score he needed with room to spare. But at Penn State another test began. He didn't play his freshman year, threw for 116 yards as a sophomore and for 31 yards as a junior. "There would be times he would get on the field and they would take him right back off," Sheryl says. "He would call me [and say], 'Mom I don't know if I'm ever going to play.' " But Clark's hard work and patience may have finally paid off. With the graduation of two-year starter Anthony Morelli, Clark, a senior, is poised to step into the starting role. The only thing is, Pat Devlin might be ready to do the same thing.
A redshirt sophomore who broke the Pennsylvania high school career passing record by throwing for 8,162 yards, Devlin is a fourth-generation Nittany Lion who wants the starting job just as much as his good friend Clark. "[ Devlin] threw a lot of passes in high school," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno says. "Because he was the third guy last year, he didn't have a lot of reps, so we just wanted to give him a lot of exposure [this spring], get him in the pocket, make him throw the ball down the field, make him read."
Devlin took advantage of the reps, while Clark worked on proving he could be the next coming of Michael Robinson, the versatile quarterback who threw for 2,350 yards, rushed for 806 and led the '05 team to an 11-1 record. But head coach Joe Paterno won't commit to a starter until the fall, and he might go with a two-quarterback rotation.
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, who finished last season 9-4, the rest of the offense is more settled. The same line that started eight games for Penn State in '07, which includes four seniors and a redshirt junior, returns this fall. So do the three featured wide receivers, Deon Butler, Jordan Norwood and Derrick Williams, who are all seniors (page 60). Having such a veteran line for protection and so many talented options downfield has been comforting to Clark and Devlin.
And even though the team lost 1,300-yard rusher Rodney Kinlaw to graduation, "we don't want to get too cute because we've got the wideouts," cautions Joe Paterno, who insists the Lions will not become a one-dimensional passing team. "We're going to run the football."
The backfield will likely feature a combination of redshirt sophomore tailback Evan Royster, who rushed for 513 yards on 82 carries last year, and Stephfon Green, a redshirt freshman who has turned heads in practice. "He can fly," says Jay Paterno. "When he gets into the open field and he has the ball in his hands, it's one of those things where everybody in the stadium will just hold their breath."
Anchoring the line that will try to pave the way for Green and Royster is senior center A.Q. Shipley, a former defensive tackle who was named to the All-Big Ten first team in '07. "On defense they always say you play with a more aggressive attitude, so I think I brought that type of attitude over to the offensive line," says Shipley. "We're trying to bring a nasty demeanor to the game."
Things are more unsettled on the other side of the ball, with legal trouble affecting three defensive players, including senior cornerback Anthony Scirrotto, who has been on police probation since February after his involvement in an off-campus fight. Injuries have taken their toll as well, especially when, with one week of spring practice remaining, senior linebacker Sean Lee—the heir apparent to lead Linebacker U after Bednarik Trophy winner Dan Connor's departure—went down with a season-ending knee injury. The initial shock of losing a linebacker whom Paterno calls "as good as anyone in the country" was tough on a team that looks to Lee for leadership. With one more year of eligibility and honorary captain status, at least Lee will be figuratively in the mix.
"He means so much to this team," says Shipley, one of Lee's best friends and a fellow '08 captain. "I think he's almost going to turn into another coach that's going to help out and do whatever he can to be around us."