Tom Pancoast began to see action in the secondary three games into his senior season. A 10-game defensive back veteran from his sophomore season, Pancoast spent his entire junior year directing Unionville High (Kennett Square, Pa.) as a quarterback, limited to playing one way.
But after a 2-1 start last fall, and with rival Bayard Rustin on deck, head coach Pat Clark double-shifted his senior leader, using him at QB and the safety spot he became familiar with two years ago.
Unionville bested Bayard Rustin 13-7 that day, receiving 200 yards rushing, two touchdowns and eight tackles from Pancoast. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound senior didn't leave the secondary after that Friday night in West Chester, Pa., and he won't be leaving it in the near future, either, committing to run on at Penn State as a defensive back Monday.
He let PSU assistant Ron Vanderlinden know of his decision Monday.
Penn State came to visit me last spring when recruiting started for juniors, and I started talking on and off with Coach Vanderlinden. After that, I came up for the Ohio State game this year, Pancoast said. I've been talking to Coach Vanderlinden ever since then, and after I came up for the (recent) Run-On Day, I liked what I heard and decided to go to Penn State.
Pancoast took official visits to Bucknell and Colgate, which offered him the chance to play safety and outside linebacker, respectively. He also received interest from Villanova as a quarterback. But ultimately, the senior decided his relationship with Vanderlinden and his trust in the Nittany Lions staff were too much to pass up.
Penn State is just great; it has so much tradition, and everyone around Penn State really does bleed blue and white, Pancoast said. All the coaches are real honest about what they expect, and that they need walk-ons to contribute to the team. In a sense, I chose Penn State because of the great education. I could have gotten that at Bucknell, too, but they just can't compare football-wise with Penn State.
Coach Van has been real honest with me, and always kept in touch. He's a real cool guy, and I feel like we have a good connection. Everything's been really great with him.
Pancoast will remind fans of Penn State walk-on redshirt sophomore safety Ryan Keiser. Though Pancoast is a bit bigger than the current Nittany Lion, they share many of the same tendencies.
I love playing the secondary, because you get to see the whole field and everything develop, Pancoast said. You get to come downhill and make a hit. I love being on half field and getting over the top and making big plays.
His decision is likely to play big in his family, too.
My mom went to Penn State, I have an older sister who just graduated from there, a sister who is there now, and I've always wanted to play for Penn State, Pancoast said. It just happened that this has all fallen into place for me.
And now he hopes everything falls into place with his Penn State football career.
I was talking to them about what would happen, and they said I could be a special teams player this year, Pancoast said. I feel I'd be good at playing special teams, especially because I think I can gain 10 or 15 pounds between now and the time the season starts. I think I could be well suited to help right away.