Harvey Levine/FOS

Remembering The Dates: Penn State OT Palmer's Unique Story

The Nittany Lions' soon-to-be 24-year-old starting left tackle finally had his first extended media availability Tuesday. He took the opportunity to explain his fascinating, sometimes nutty journey to Happy Valley.

Dates — the fruit — were the worst, Paris Palmer said.

They would be shipped to Ann’s House of Nuts, the business in Robersonville, N.C., where he worked as a mixer after graduating from high school in nearby Plymouth in the spring of 2012.

He had hopes of playing football somewhere that fall, but then he blew out his left knee playing pickup basketball in January of that year, and the college interest dried up. So now here he was, mixing up ingredients for snacks.

And dealing with dates.

“I personally had never heard of dates until I worked there, but you’ve got to mix up the dates,” he said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Dates, actually, would hurt our hands, because we had to break them up individually. … They came as like a brick of dates, and you had to break it up. That was very annoying, because our gloves would get cut or whatever. You had to do that, and just a lot of stuff.” http://www.scout.com/college/football/recruiting/story/1725457-penn-stat...

Somehow he didn’t let that chip away at whatever it is that’s inside him — perseverance, sense of purpose, etc. Somehow that has sustained him as he has landed at Penn State via Lackawanna College, a junior college in Scranton. And as he has gone from starting to the bench and back again in his two seasons with the Nittany Lions.

Palmer, who turns 24 next month, now finds himself the regular left tackle for a team that is humming along, having won five straight games to improve to 7-2. Anything is possible, it would appear.

Then again, he already knew that.

There have been times the last two years, in fact, when he has sat by himself in the locker room after everyone else has left and wondered at his own journey, at the improbability of it all.

“It took a while to kind of soak in,” he said.

The 6-foot-7, 304-pound senior has been the regular the last three and a half games, having stepped in when Andrew Nelson was lost for the season to a knee injury in the second quarter of the Oct. 8 victory over Maryland, forcing Brendan Mahon to switch from the left side to Nelson’s spot on the right flank. (Mahon also injured a foot three plays into last Saturday’s rout of Iowa, and was replaced by Chasz Wright.)

So far Palmer looks steadier and sturdier than he did while playing in all 13 games last season, 11 of them starts, which is another tribute to his mindset.

“I had to just keep working,” he said Tuesday, in what was his first extended media availability since he arrived in Happy Happy Valley. “I couldn’t get down about (not starting), couldn’t lose confidence, because at any moment’s notice in the game of football, you can be thrown in the game. … I just knew I had to steady the course and just keep working at my craft.”

Born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., he grew up in Plymouth (pop. 3,878), a rural town in northeastern North Carolina, some two hours east of Durham.

A three-year starter at Plymouth High, he made his own highlight tape and circulated it to college coaches his senior year. There was interest — East Carolina reportedly wanted him as a preferred walk-on — but things changed when he tore his ACL and meniscus playing pickup hoops.

That led to date duty.

“At the time, football wasn’t in my sights,” he said. “I was just trying to handle what was in front of me — the fact of having no money, just laying around the house and also not being able to walk, run or do anything after my surgery. … I knew that once my leg healed, I would definitely try to go out there and find more opportunities, but at that time I was somewhat stationary, so I wasn’t able to market myself out there like that.” http://www.scout.com/college/penn-state/story/1725584-psu-commit-rob-mar...

He finally got to the point where he considered prep school, but a friend pointed him in the direction of Lackawanna, which is coached by former Maryland defensive lineman Mark Duda and has notably given rise to players like former Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.

Palmer calls Duda “a pivotal person in my story,” but the adjustment to Lackawanna was considerable. There was homesickness, Palmer admits. There was the adjustment to pass-blocking, after playing in a Wing-T offense in high school. And, initially, there was the work rate.

“When I got there it was rough,” he said. “The first couple practices, workouts, were rough, because I had never been through something so vigorous as that.”

Other guys quit. He would not.

“I always had those talks, late night, with myself, in that four-man (dorm) room — just saying to myself, ‘I’m doing this for a reason. … This is definitely the means to an end,’ ” he said. “I knew myself I wanted more. I wanted way more than just Lackawanna football.”

He redshirted in 2013, and committed to South Carolina the follow spring, before ever playing a junior-college down. Penn State coach James Franklin subsequently talked him into flipping to the Nittany Lions, and Palmer arrived in Happy Valley in January 2015.

Again he had to re-commit himself — get himself into better shape and smooth out the rough spots, of which there were many. He was the starting left tackle for last season’s opener, a 10-sack disaster in the loss at Temple. The line never did get squared away, giving up 39 sacks, and Palmer lost his job at the beginning of this season.

But now he’s back, continuing the most unlikely of journeys — a journey, incidentally, that finds him on track to earn a degree in telecommunications next month.

“Football is definitely a game of perseverance,” he said, “and I’ve always been someone who’s been able to persevere, given my circumstances I was given at a young age and (the ability) to make it all the way to such a prestigious school as Penn State. I can’t really say that I’ve learned anything new about myself, because I knew who I was, coming into this place. But I can say that I’ve always been someone who’s never let my circumstances determine my future, or let them change my outlook in any way. I’ve always had plans, had goals and I’ve been someone who’s worked to make sure I achieve them.”

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