- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Stephen Obeng-Agyapong told the media in early August that his transition to linebacker wouldn't be that difficult. It's just going from the third level to the second level, last year's starting safety said. It's not a big change, he insisted. It won't be a problem.
Turns out the Penn State senior didn't exactly believe his own words back then.
He admitted this week he practiced the new position with hesitation. He worried he was too short, too light and wouldn't be a good matchup against the bigger blockers. But he kept those concerns to himself and his teammates. He didn't need the opposition knowing he wasn't comfortable.
"I'm not the biggest linebacker, you know?" said Obeng-Agyapong, who stands 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds. "I wasn't a fan of it. But I kept practicing and, when the game came, I did a pretty good job of it. It gave me confidence."
The Bronx native played down his heroics earlier this week but acknowledged his performance in the Syracuse game -- one sack, one pick, one fumble recovery -- finally sold him on the switch. After starting LB Mike Hull went down with a leg injury, the Orange targeted the defense's apparent weak link in replacement Obeng-Agyapong ... but it didn't exactly go as expected.
The man with the longest last name on the team -- get used to pronouncing it; it's OH-bing AH-juh-pong -- shut Syracuse down at every turn. Defensive coordinator John Butler frequently called his number on blitzes, and his speed caused fits for the Orange.
"Obeng played a phenomenal game," linebacker Nyeem Wartman said, adding he felt the safety-turned-linebacker was the defensive key to PSU's opening win. "When Hull went down, Obeng stepped up. I think his plays made a big impact because they kept going at him. They knew he wasn't a linebacker, so they kept trying to run at him and he was making plays."
Obeng-Agyapong will likely hear his name called a bit more now on Saturdays. Hull is listed day-to-day with an apparent leg injury, but PSU's shortest on linebacker depth. That's part of the reason the safety was moved there to begin with, and he has been focusing on the new position this week.
Even if Hull returns, Obeng-Agyapong should see a lot of time. And he's just fine with that now.
"Initially, I wasn't a fan," he said of linebacker. "I was recruited as a safety. That was my favorite position. I felt like I wouldn't as be successful going down there."
"But after the game Saturday, I realized I could run around those guys and compete and make some plays. That kind of changed my whole mindset."
Obeng-Agyapong started 11 games at safety last season and came away with exactly two turnovers. On Saturday, he also had a hand in two -- including forcing and recovering one fumble.
His surprise performance even caused his head coach to wonder aloud about plugging him in elsewhere. Maybe, Bill O'Brien said Tuesday, he'd practice with the fullbacks or tight ends this week. "I'm being serious," he added.
Wherever he plays, Obeng-Agyapong will undoubtedly play a big role on this team. With a team short on scholarships, versatility is at a premium -- and Obeng-Agyapong has enough trust in this staff now that he'll play anywhere. He's confident, he's one of the fastest PSU players, and he's a quick learner.
"A lot of my teammates were telling me, 'I told you so. I told you you should've been a linebacker,' " Obeng-Agyapong said with a laugh. "It is what it is.
"Sometimes those opportunities come, and you don't know what you can actually do until you actually do it."
3dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy