Staying Focused

Jay-Z and the NFL can wait. Senior tight end Andrew Quarless is more concerned about winning football games for Penn State.

The question would probably have stumped a lot of Penn State students: What are you more excited for this weekend -- Penn State's game Saturday against Eastern Illinois or Jay-Z's concert Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center?

Andrew Quarless laughed when it was put to him Tuesday on a conference call with reporters.

“We actually are not able to go to the concert, because we check into the [team] hotel Friday,” said the senior tight end. “But every game is exciting to me, so nothing could be more exciting than that football game.”

The arrival of the celebrated hip-hop impresario has been long awaited in State College, where the concert offerings skew more toward country and classic rock. The Eastern Illinois game, on the other hand, has not been long awaited. It's one of those games in which the sport's business underpinnings are laid bare, and as a result, it hasn't been embraced with anywhere near the fervor that greeted the Big Ten opener two weeks ago against Iowa. Joe Paterno, speaking at his Tuesday news conference, was forced to defend the matchup by producing a list of big-time schools that are likewise scouring the Football Championship Subdivision for nonconference opponents. “We had an open date,” he said. “We had a chance to play 12 games, all right?”

But Quarless doesn't much care whether it's an attractive matchup or not. There is an opponent, which means there will be a game, which means he will have another opportunity to make up for lost time.

Quarless has been through a number of off-the-field issues that have cut into his playing time, issues that at one point threatened to derail his Penn State career altogether. He caught only 14 passes as a sophomore and only 11 as a junior.

But this fall, he appears to be well on his way to fulfilling some of the promise he showed as a true freshman. Through five games, he is second on the team with 16 catches for 153 yards, including a career-high five catches last week against Illinois. He also had what would have been a 70-yard touchdown catch against Temple called back because of an illegal block.

“This is my last season, so I'm really, really excited every time I'm out on the field, whether it's the practice field or the game field,” Quarless said. “I'm cherishing the moments, because I don't have many more in my college career. It's coming down to a short time.”

Paterno has been pleased with his progress. With the passing game in transition after the loss of three veteran wide receivers in the off-season, the Lions have called on the tight ends and running backs to play bigger roles as pass-catchers. The tight ends -- Quarless, Mickey Shuler and Andrew Szczerba -- have responded with 23 catches for 202 yards.

“Quarless and Shuler have both done a good job blocking, and they've been solid,” Paterno said. “They just needed an opportunity to catch the ball. We hadn't been throwing it too them much.”

Quarless is excited about the future. Given his sure hands, good speed and impressive size -- 6-foot-5, 258 pounds -- he should get a long look from NFL scouts after the season. But he's not looking too far ahead just yet.

“The NFL is my dream, and that's definitely what I want to do,” he said. “But going through the season, I just want to play every game as hard as I can. Once you start thinking about the NFL, you start playing for stats and stuff like that rather than playing for the love of the game. So it's in the back of my mind, but I don't think about it too much. I just play every game hard and hope to make an impact and help my team win.”


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