Obeng Playing Position Pong

Where is Penn State's fifth-year senior lining up? Wherever head coach Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lion staff need him.

As a senior safety, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong entered his fifth year with the Nittany Lions believing there would be nothing to hold him back. With an off-season shoulder injury fully healed and a newfound confidence, he was ready to dominate in the secondary.

Obeng-Agyapong was recruited as a safety. It was a position he once considered to be his favorite. So when the 5-foot-10, 205-pounder was approached by head coach Bill O'Brien about playing linebacker this season, it's safe to say Obeng-Agyapong was less than thrilled about the idea.

“Initially, I wasn't a fan of the linebacker position,” said Obeng-Agyapong. “For me to get called to the box, I felt like I wouldn't be that successful there. Especially going against bigger guys. They probably see me and think, 'He's about 20 pounds lighter. I could block him easily.' That is something that discouraged me.”

In the season-opener against Syracuse, Obeng-Agyapong was called to the box much earlier than expected. Starting outside linebacker Mike Hull was injured and Obeng-Agyapong needed to be the next man up.

It only took one game for the safety to realize what O'Brien and teammates were talking about when they told him he should be playing at linebacker. Obeng-Agyapong had a career day with eight tackles, a sack, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

“After the game on Saturday, I realized I could run around those guys and actually compete with them,” said Obeng-Agyapong. “I found out I could make some plays and that's what changed my whole mind-set.”

Obeng-Agyapong certainly surprised himself with his final stat line from Saturday. O'Brien, however, was expecting this type of performance from his new linebacker. At his Tuesday press conference, O'Brien mentioned Obeng-Agyapong would line up in practice this week at tight end and fullback, too.

“I'm being serious,” O'Brien said. Whether he really was being serious remains to be seen.

But if you ask Obeng-Agyapong about O'Brien's comment, he seems more comfortable with the idea than when he was first approached about playing linebacker. Obeng-Agyapong's results at linebacker speak for themselves. So maybe O'Brien's comment should be taken seriously.

This wouldn't be the first time O'Brien has tried lining up a defensive player at tight end. While he was an assistant coach with the New England Patriots, Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi were used as tight ends in red zone situations.

Obeng-Agyapong was also quick to mention he had some experience on offense. The Bronx native and former team captain of John F. Kennedy High played on both sides of the ball in high school. He lined up at free safety, receiver and running back. His 130 career tackles and four interceptions are what colleges first noticed, but his 719 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his senior season were not overlooked.

“My size could again be an issue at tight end, but I can see myself playing on offense,” said Obeng-Agyapong. “I wouldn't have a problem with it at all. In high school, I played a little at receiver and running back. Tight end is a little different, but I can probably see myself there. Right now, I honestly don't see it as a possibility, though.”

Obeng-Agyapong is comfortable taking on any position O'Brien asks him to, but he doesn't see himself on the other side of the ball any time soon. He certainly doesn't expect to be taking any offensive snaps against Eastern Michigan this Saturday.

But yet again, he didn't expect to be called on to play linebacker so soon, either.

Last week, Obeng-Agyapong primarily viewed himself as a safety. This week, he views himself as an interchangeable player at linebacker and safety. Who knows, maybe next week, Obeng-Agyapong will be adding tight end to his repertoire.

One lesson Obeng-Agyapong did learn after last Saturday is that at any time he could be the next man up.

“You never know when your name is going to be called,” said Obeng-Agyapong. “One play can separate you from being on the second team to moving up to the first team. You just have to be ready to fulfill your role wherever it may be.”

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