Kilmer: "It's going to mean a lot"

Ethan Kilmer will be one of the 23 players introduced to the crowd Saturday when Penn State's seniors play their final game at Beaver Stadium. His ovation won't be the longest or loudest, but it will certainly be among the most gratifying.

"It's going to mean a lot," said Kilmer, a backup wide receiver for the Nittany Lions. "It's the culmination of my football career at Penn State, the culmination of my college career in general. It's been a looping road, so this is going to be very sentimental."

Kilmer has shined for the Lions both as a receiver and on special teams. Against Illinois, he started in place of the injured Derrick Williams and scored the Nittany Lions' first touchdown, scooting 35 yards on a slant pattern.

Against Purdue last week, he made six tackles despite never playing on defense. It was a testament to his great speed and his skills as a "gunner" on punt and kick returns.

If Kilmer has made a surprising impact for a walk-on transfer, his story is even more remarkable than that description might lead you to believe. He's a walk-on transfer who had barely played football before coming to Penn State.

The 6-foot, 205-pound Kilmer was more interested in track and basketball while at Wyalusing Valley High. He starred as a high jumper, medaling at the Pennsylvania state championships and setting a school record. He also started four years on the basketball team, twice winning the squad's MVP award. A great all-around athlete, Kilmer dabbled in football as well, but his interest quickly waned. After his freshman year, he decided he was too small for the sport and gave it up.

Kilmer went on to attend nearby Shippensburg University, but he soon began to think about leaving. He had friends at Penn State, and the school also had a course of study in kinesiology, which he needed to launch a career as a personal trainer.

As for football, his decision to try out for the team was almost a lark. "There was no epiphany," he said. "But I had confidence in my abilities and my work ethic, and it was something I wanted to try. … There was no one moment, just a bunch of little things along the way that pushed me into what I'm doing now."

Kilmer began to attract attention while competing with the foreign team in 2003. Defensive backs coach Brian Norwood liked what he saw, as did Joe Paterno.

"I saw him out there one day running around and I said, 'Who is that kid?' " Paterno recalled. "They told me he came from Shippensburg, but that he never played football there."

Kilmer got on the field last year. He played in every game, filling in at safety and also contributing on special teams. He finished the season with six tackles.

After the season, Kilmer considered giving up football but was persuaded by Paterno to return. He was moved him to wide receiver and finished spring practice ranked second behind Mark Rubin on the depth chart.

Heading into Saturday's game against Wisconsin, Kilmer has made three starts at wide receiver. He is seventh on the team in receiving with six catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns. He's also tied for 12th in tackles with 17 stops including 14 solos.

"Coming into the season I didn't know what to expect as far as playing time," Kilmer said. "I was open to everything. You always get a little greedy, but if everyone's doing well and the team's doing well, it's fine with me."

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