The Nittany Lion defensive coordinator is plenty familiar with La Salle College High near Philadelphia, his alma mater, and the Explorers boast high-caliber linebacker Zaire Franklin, a junior who has visited University Park. But as many assistant coaches have found in their travels to Keystone State schools, the programs with top-flight targets tend to have diamonds in the rough, too, players who could fit well into the Nittany Lions budding run-on program.
La Salle was no different.
Defensive back Dad Poquie opted to run-on at Penn State after attending the Nittany Lions run-on day event in January, and Fight On State talked with La Salle defensive coordinator John Steinmetz to learn more about a prospect whose journey began well before his playing days in Pennsylvania. The senior was at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds during the wrestling season, and will run track for the Explorers in the spring before taking off for University Park.
FOS: We know Dad had other choices besides Penn State. So what made him choose the Nittany Lions?
JS: There were some other schools interested in Dad, mainly Bloomsburg, West Chester, Slippery Rock -- and Pittsburgh kind of inquired about him being a walk-on. We've been in contact with John Butler for a while about Dad, and then he went up for the run-on day on Jan. 20 and he loved it. He was very impressed with everything there and Coach Butler, and likes the opportunity there. He took a couple days after that, and decided that is where he wanted to go.
FOS: He had a journey unlike anyone else that will join Penn State this summer. Can you explain his story a little bit?
JS: Sure. Dad came to the United States from Africa, and he has not had an easy road. That's why when you look at somebody that's a character kid, he stands out. He did very well at La Salle academically, and worked at his grades. He's a hard working, mature kid.
FOS: How did you use Dad in your defensive schemes? Was he recognized with any awards after the season?
JS: Dad was a two-time first-team All-Catholic defensive back. He's a physical corner, and what we would do a lot of times is pick a player that Dad would cover man to man, and roll the secondary to everybody else. Some weeks, we decided he was not going to cover number one, but two, and we would role everybody in zone up against the other guy, or play flat out man to man and have the free safety pick the best receiver on his side. He's a pretty good corner, and a very good tackler and man to man player. What's outstanding is he only started playing cornerback as a sophomore.
FOS: When did you first realize that Dad could be a high impact player at the varsity level?
JS: We have a separate freshman team, and rarely do any of those guys come up. But from sophomore year on, he was one of our bullets on the punt coverage team and kick coverage team. Playing those two spots, he was really good. Looking at his highlight film from sophomore year against North Penn, he killed those guys with his ability to cover punts and kickoffs and generate stops.
FOS: Are there any games that stand out to you where Dad made a big impact?
JS: I think if you look at the Roman (Catholic) film the last two years, he did a really nice job on Will Fuller, and didn't get a little more love for that. Roman has arguably the best passing offense in the Delaware Valley. They're a really talented offense, and we beat them four times in a two-year period with Dad being the corner that matched up with Fuller.
FOS: What did knowing both John Butler and Penn State strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald [another La Salle grad] mean in Dad's decision process?
JS: I think the one thing you should know is Coach Butler and Fitzgerald are both La Salle products, and two marvelous men with great character. Being around those two are a great reason to send a young man there [to Penn State]. When Coach O'Brien talked to them [at the run-on event] and said 'I don't know who, but someone in this room is going to run down against Syracuse,' you got the feeling that these guys aren't just going to hold the bag for them. They need someone to compete, and want to try and compete for a starting position as well as a defensive back. When he talked to them, you knew he [Butler] had watched their film, and he knew who they were. I think that's the most powerful thing; the time and the energy those guys had, and just the way they treated them with class. That's what Dad jumped on.
FOS: You said that Dad is roughly 5-foot-10, 170 pounds right now, a weight he had to maintain through the wrestling season. What potential does he have for growth once in Fitzgerald's program? And how does wrestling help him become a better play in your mind?
JS: With Coach Fitz, I think he can get to 195, 200 pounds and still be as fast as he is today, easily. He works hard in the weight room, and along with wrestling, he runs track at La Salle, as well. He's a thick kid. With wrestling, I think it helps him be a better tackler, and he thinks that, too. As a coach, you don't want your kids doing just anything, but wrestling is a demanding sport, and we've had a lot of defensive linemen who are now scholarship football players that wrestled. I don't know specifically what translated well, but they work their butts off, and you can never go wrong with that.