- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
What kind of player is Penn State getting here in preferred walk-on Austin Whipple? And what can fans expect?
NittanyNation turned to one of the people who knows most what Whipple is capable of on the field -- his postgraduate coach at Salisbury (Conn.) School -- and asked what separates him as a player, how he first noticed Whipple's ability and when he especially showcased his FBS potential.
Whipple's father, Mark, is good friends with Bill O'Brien. And Mark is the quarterbacks coach of the Cleveland Browns -- so Austin Whipple is no stranger to pro-style offenses.
Austin Whipple, Salisbury (Conn.) School
6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Salisbury School coach Chris Phelps, on what separates Whipple from others at his position: "I think what makes him special is his knowledge of the game and his competitiveness because he has moved around and played on a lot of high school offenses. I think in some ways it's been tough on him, but it's forced him to be a quick learner. He was in Pittsburgh, then down in St. Thomas [in Florida], then back in Pittsburgh. And then he came here.
"So he's had to adjust quickly, and his ability to adapt is a big positive. Obviously, he's grown up around football, so he understood the concepts of our packages and he made a lot of checks at the line of scrimmage."
When you first knew he would be something special: "You know, our preseason in the New England prep schools is pretty short. So it probably was early in the season when we were playing Worcester. It was a close game, and we needed someone to step up, and Austin did that. He threw the ball to Luke Amato, and that's when you saw him take over from a competitive standpoint and a leadership standpoint. I think that's when he took off.
"The game had been a back-and-forth type of game. It was a very physical game, and it was a very emotional game. The tide had just turned in our favor a little bit, and we had a chance to make a statement and maintain the momentum at that time. We kinda felt like if we could do something right now, we could finish the game off -- and that's when he completed that pass. We were able to manage the game differently because of that first down. It was big."
When he surprised you or really showcased his ability: "Well, I think there are probably two things there I could say about Austin. One was our New England championship vs. Phillips Exeter. We came in as the underdog, and it was a game where it was going to be a physical one, where we were going to have to run the ball well and throw the ball well and take advantage of what they were giving us because they're a very good team. And he made some very good plays, scrambling and extending some plays, making some big third-down conversions -- and I think that's the best example of Austin, that [29-26 victory]. That's when you knew he was going to be something special because he managed the game so well and extended the plays.
"The other thing about Austin, too, and this tells you about his leadership ability: We got into our last game of the regular season, and two of our receivers went down, two of our main targets. And we were the bigger team, so we handed it over to our offensive line and ran the football. And his father, who doesn't get to the games often because of his own games, was there. And we took the ball on one drive 96 yards and didn't pass once. And after the game -- we didn't throw much -- you would've thought he threw the game-winning TD because it didn't matter how it happened. It mattered about winning. And as proud as I am about him winning the championship, I'm proud of him putting the team first."
6dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy