Stupar Amped for Shot at Tide

The linebacker had to wait his turn to become a full-time starter. He's anxious to show his stuff Saturday.

The vibe is always different the week of a big game, Penn State linebacker Nate Stupar said Wednesday morning.

He can remember other years, when the Lions were preparing to play Ohio State. The players on the scout team -- i.e., those reserves charged with mimicking the Buckeyes' plays in practice -- would wear skull caps over their helmets resembling OSU's silver headgear.

But they wouldn't stop there, Stupar said.

“They'd make Buckeye stickers,” he said, referring to the decals players are awarded for big plays in Columbus, “and put them on the back.”

He claims never to have done that himself, when he was a scout teamer. And, he said, “We didn't do anything like that this week.”

No, Saturday's game at No. 1 Alabama speaks for itself. There's no reason to do anything out of the ordinary. Everyone knows the enormity of the task at hand.

“I think we have a lot of passion and excitement in practice, knowing we have Alabama,” Stupar said. “I think we're pretty pumped.”

And have been, he said, since they became aware that the Crimson Tide was on this year's schedule.

“It was a key factor of working really hard in the summer and then into the preseason,” he said. “Now we get into the week we're prepared for Alabama, mentally and physically.”

Stupar is a State College native. His parents, Steve and Cheryl, are both Penn State graduates, and his dad was a Lions lineman from 1976-79. That means he played in that memorable Sugar Bowl against the Tide in January 1979, when Barry Krauss stuffed Mike Guman at the goal line, etc.

Nate said his dad has never really talked about the game, and the younger Stupar has never watched it the hundreds of times it has been replayed on television.

“I've heard,” he said, “that (Matt) Suhey, the running back, really scored that last touchdown (on third down, the snap before Krauss stuffed Guman). But that's from our players' perspective.”

There might very well be new memories to be made this week. (Or so the Lions hope. Joe Paterno, very much on his game Tuesday, made it sound in his weekly news conference that his team might be wasting its time making the trip to Tuscaloosa.)

Last week's season-opening victory over Youngstown State was memorable in and of itself for Stupar, who made the third career start, at strong-side linebacker. But his two starts in 2009 came when first-teamer Navorro Bowman was hurt. This year, with Bowman off to the NFL, Stupar earned the top job in the preseason.

The redshirt junior said it was “an awesome feeling” to contribute in some way other than special teams, and he finished the day with three tackles and a sack while alternating with Michael Mauti.

Stupar had seen extensive action last year, when the 'backer corps was beset by injuries, making 31 stops. But he had spent two years waiting his turn.

“I came in here knowing it was going to be a wait,” he said, noting that for one thing he had to make the transition from high school defensive end to college linebacker.

And the wait didn't bother him. His game has “improved tremendously” since his freshman year, he believes.

“Now,” he said, “it's my time, and I'm just ready to play.”

Especially this week.

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