At his core, Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib is still the same guy who walked on four years ago.
His body has changed. He was 6-6 and 215 pounds then, and is 6-7 and 272 now.
His role has changed. He was an afterthought then, and appears to be a budding star now.
But really, he said, he is no different than when he came out of Malvern Prep, having never so much as started a game in high school.
“I always like to represent Walk-On University,” he said after Saturday’s 27-14 victory over Buffalo. “My fellow walk-ons don’t think I’m a part of it anymore: ‘Oh, you’re a graduate.’ No, I still rep that every day. If you have a walk-on’s mentality – just grinding every day and just earning your keep every day – it’s just the way to do it, I think.”
Starting for only the second time in his college career Saturday – the other time was the season-opening loss to Temple, of course – he recorded three sacks. And forced two fumbles. And contributed the first interception of his career, leading to a second-quarter field goal.
“Today,” he said, “was fun.”
Coach James Franklin has talked up Nassib at every turn, going so far as to say at one point that the senior is “everything that's right about our country … (and) everything that's right about college athletics.”
“I love him,” Franklin said. “I wish we could clone more of him.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was no less effusive back in the spring, saying that Nassib is “the type of guy who I think will come out of nowhere and (have) the type of year that could be an All-Big Ten-caliber year.”
Shoop didn’t stop there, either.
“He could be a five- or 10-year veteran in the NFL,” he said. “He’s got a lot of potential.”
Now Nassib is beginning to deliver on it. His pick came after defensive tackle Anthony Zettel deflected a pass by Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata.
Then he celebrated with a Rob Gronkowski-esque spike
“I was nervous I was going to get called for a penalty,” Nassib said. “I should have just held on to it. That was a mistake. … I was really hyped up. That was my first interception ever. I was pretty excited.”
His pressure was unrelenting, and left him with four sacks in two games this season. And when he was done inflicting all that damage, somebody asked him if he could have ever pictured having a day like this one, back when he walked on.
“Maybe,” he said.
Then he thought about it.
“Probably not,” he said. “Probably not, you know?”
He said he chose to walk on at PSU because it is “every football player’s dream” to go there. He redshirted in 2011, didn’t play at all in ’12 and finally began to see the light of day in 2013.
“That was kind of the turning moment,” he said. “I got my scholarship. It was like, ‘All right, now I can play with these guys and fully contribute.’ I just wanted to contribute. As long as I’ve been here, I just wanted to contribute.”
Now it appears he can do something more, all while doing Walk-On University proud.
Sweet kid, too.
“You guys are great,” he told reporters as he departed the media room Saturday. “I love every single one of you."