Troy Stivason likely couldn't have pictured a better situation by the time Week 9 of the 2012 high school football season rolled around. After all, his Athens (Pa.) High side had rolled off seven wins in a row, and before it looked to extend that streak to eight against Central Mountain (Mill Hall, Pa.), Wildcats coach Jack Young delivered some promising news.
Penn State was interested.
The irony of the situation is stark: Central Mountain would steamroll Athens on its home turf, 38-19, no doubt thanks to the help of more than 100 yards from running back Von Walker. Walker would later commit to walk on at Penn State, doing so through the guidance of Lions' line coach Mac McWhorter.
Nearly a year later, Stivason is taking the same path.
The senior committed to walk on at Penn State Monday. He fell in love with the program he idolized as a boy and the recruiting coach, McWhorter, who has set aside time for a chat each week this fall. Stivason plays quarterback and punts in high school, but he'll set aside his passing duties to be a full-time kicker in college.
"Ever since I was a little kid, my parents have got season tickets through friends at Penn State," Stivason said. "Ever since I can remember, I wanted to walk out of the tunnel of Beaver Stadium with a Penn State jersey on.
"It's a dream to play at such a high Division-I level. It's really cool."
The interest culminated in a visit to University Park when the Lions' hosted Eastern Michigan in early September, the first time Sitvason experienced Beaver Stadium not as a fan, but as a recruit. It was everything that he imagined it to be and more.
There was the sideline viewing of warm-ups and the camaraderie in the recruit section as the game unfolded. It was a feeling that grew during his return trip to see Penn State fall to Central Florida, a defeat eased by the fact that he now knew where he wanted to continue his college career.
"That whole atmosphere was amazing. I've been feeling the Penn State atmosphere my entire life, but to just sit there and see 100,000-plus cheering for one team, it's awesome," Stivason said. "Coach McWhorter is a great guy, and when we talk, it's a lot of football talk.
"It's extremely difficult to pass up full scholarships, but it's more difficult to pass up the dream I've had my entire life."
Fully understanding Stivason's story, and how he came to be a quarterback, kicker and punter, requires a trip back to fourth grade. It was then he started playing football, and learning under the guidance of a high school hero.
That was Shane Raupers, whose mother had a close friendship with Stivason's mother, Sharon. He quickly became Stivason's mentor, teaching him the art of kicking and punting, something Stivason said he picked up immediately and has done for the majority of his football career.
Raupers ended up at Syracuse, averaging 37.38 yards per punt in 2011, the only year he recorded stats for the Orange. Stivason credits Raupers with getting him into kicking seriously, before his current trainer, Adam Tanalski of Hammer Kicking Academy, refined his skill through countless hours of work.
"I went to seven or eight competitions across the United States and won every single one in kicking," Stivason said. "I won a few punting, but I kick five or six times a week, and I'm in the weight room every week."
"To perfect the craft, it's a lot of repetition, so that's what I do."
Athens is not off to the start it may have expected, sitting at 2-4 through six weeks, but kicking wise, it's going just fine. Stivason is one-for-one on field goal attempts, and at last check was averaging around 57 yards a punt.
He says he feels comfortable up to about 55 yards on placements. His career long, a 53-yarder last fall, came only after he was sacked on second down and lost yards scrambling on third down. The distance, he said, didn't even occur to him until the ball sailed through the uprights.
Stivason has not ruled out competing for the punting job at Penn State. But to do so, he'll have to add more emphasize to punting -- he's mostly focused on kicking now -- which is something he plans to do next summer.
"I think they've emphasized kicking more over punting, but I want to do a ton of work this summer on my punting," Stivason said. "I think I could have that ability with training to be able to punt in the next year or two.
"They stressed kicking when I came down to camp, and I did more of that than punting. But you never know."
Penn State has not mentioned the potential of a scholarship down the road. But the NCAA's recent decision to ease scholarship sanctions against the Lions makes the opportunity more plausible. Stivason admitted it played a part in what described as a family decision.
"My dad was looking more toward who was offering -- the (scholarship) money aspect -- but my mom liked anywhere I was happy," Stivason said. "We visited a couple of schools, and my dad realized: (they were) not like Penn State. It was my dream to play at there, and with the sanctions lessened, that quickened his and my process.
"Now that I'm committed, I'm looking forward to meeting and seeing the other recruits and commits," he continued, adding he would be in town for this Saturday's Homecoming clash with Michigan. "I'm looking forward to meeting up with some of my teammates for next year, seeing what sold them on Penn State, and seeing all the coaches again. It's a rivalry, and it will be pretty cool."