A Stabilizing Force

Entering his second year as a starter, Wagner aims to be a steady contributor for a kicking game otherwise in flux.

Collin Wagner is ready to pick up where he left off. It's the rest of Penn State's kicking game that's in limbo as the Nittany Lions prepare to wrap up spring practice Saturday with the Blue-White Game.

Wagner is back for his final season after making 15 of 22 field goal attempts last year, including a 4-for-4 four effort in some of the most dismal field conditions imaginable at the Capital One Bowl. He's looking to improve his consistency and help a team that has some holes to fill on offense.

“I went into the winter really thinking that it was important that I focus on hitting the ball in the right spot and having every ball feel the same coming off my foot,” Wagner said.

As for the rest of the kicking game, Penn State's got some concerns. The team's projected starting punter, Ryan Breen, abruptly left the program in the midst of winter workouts. The player who was seemingly next in line for the starting job after Breen, punter/kicker Anthony Fera, was cited in early April for underage drinking and hasn't practiced much this spring.

That leaves Russell Nye, who played with Wagner at State College High and joined the Nittany Lions as a walk-on after transferring from Temple. Wagner said Nye “has been doing well. It's hard to get thrown into a spot like this right away, but he's been holding his own. He's been progressing over the whole spring practice.”

Even so, the coaching staff is clearly worried about the punting situation. How worried? Enough to try taking a look at wideout Graham Zug at the position.

Zug punted at Manheim Central High before coming to Penn State, and Wagner said he's been seeing significant time at the position lately.

“Russell and Graham have been getting the bulk of the reps there, so I would say that Graham Zug is probably a serious option,” Wagner said.

Wagner added that players were stunned by Breen's departure. “He was having a good winter. He wasn't missing workouts or anything,” said the senior from State College. “I'm not sure what the whole reason behind it was, but pretty much everyone around here was shocked by what happened.”

At least the place-kicking situation is looking good. Wagner came through in a big way for the Lions in their bowl game. On a slick, muddy field, he made kicks of 26, 18, 20 and 21 yards, including the winner with 57 seconds to play. Admittedly nervous at the start of last season, Wagner emerged from the Lions' 19-17 victory over LSU with something positive to take into the off-season.

“I can always look back on that and tell myself that I've made the pressure kick,” he said. “But I don't want to get a false sense of confidence and relax and not try to improve every day that I'm out there.”


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