Penn State's Captain Fantastic

Nittany Lion senior Brett Brackett put together a career game vs. YSU. Fellow team leader Ollie Ogbu was outstanding, too.

It goes without saying that this was just a start for Robert Bolden, Penn State's freshman quarterback, that while he was excellent in Saturday's opener against Youngstown State we will learn more and more about him as the season unfolds.

But surely we knew everything there was to know about seniors Brett Brackett and Ollie Ogbu -- PSU's newly appointed captains -- by now.

Or at least we thought we did.

Brackett: Slow-footed receiver … good program guy … excellent student … Lift for Life organizer … probably helps elderly folk cross the street.

Ogbu: Complementary defensive tackle … dirty-work guy … run stuffer … able to occupy blockers at a single bound.

Their efforts against the overmatched Penguins might force us to reassess. Brackett caught eight passes -- five more than he managed all last season -- for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Ogbu made six tackles, most among the defensive linemen and third-most on the team. One went for a four-yard loss. Another was a fourth-down stop with Jack Crawford in the second quarter, a play that seemed to swing momentum PSU's way.

Sure, it's only Youngstown State. But it was a step toward erasing some long-held notions. Or so Ogbu hopes.

“Being a senior and a captain, I have to go out there and walk the walk and talk the talk,” he said. “That's every week. I don't expect to go in a cave next week (against Alabama) and hide.”

While Brackett didn't quite put it that way, he did say that it felt good to be back at the flex position, the one manned by Andrew Quarless last year and the one Brackett had last played two years ago, when he caught 13 balls.

In 2009 he was a backup at the outside receiver spots, and had little impact. Now, perhaps, it can be different.

“Any time you go out there you want to do well,” he said. “You want to feel good about yourself when you leave the field. Today I can say I feel good about what I did.”

The touchdown catches -- a 20-yarder in the second quarter and a 22-yarder in the third -- were the third and fourth of his career. He also had receptions in three other scoring drives, showing a comfort level with Bolden not always apparent between the young QB and the other receivers.

“That's been something we've seen since (Bolden) came in the first session (of the summer),” wideout Devon Smith said. “He had a connection with all of us, but he really had a connection with Brett, and it showed today.”

Bolden, said Brackett, “showed above and beyond what we expected with his poise and confidence. He did a great job reading the defense, finding the holes and finding me.”

Everybody chuckled at that last part. But it really does appear that Brackett offers a nice, safe alternative on underneath patterns, that he will often be available to Bolden while opposing defenses gang up on Derek Moye and Graham Zug.

Certainly that was the case Saturday, Joe Paterno said.

“I thought (the Penguins) would take linebackers and move them out (to help on the outside receivers),” he said. “So we put Brackett in position to get his hands on the football. … He doesn't have quite the speed that some of the other kids on the squad have. He is sure-handed and runs routes well. The quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in him. I was glad to see him do well today.”

Brackett said his second TD, the 22-yarder, was a direct result of the Youngstown State defense being preoccupied with Zug. But Brackett still had to make an acrobatic catch along the right sideline before tumbling into the end zone.

Overall, Brackett said, “The defense played a certain way, and I took what the defense gave.”

He is well-versed in reading defenses, having arrived on campus in 2006 as a quarterback. He switched to receiver early on, after being asked to mimic Notre Dame wideout Jeff Samardzija while on the scout team.

“I guess I surprised (the coaches) with my ability to run and make some catches,” Brackett said.

But his on-field opportunities have been few; he had just 17 receptions for his career before Saturday. He has instead distinguished himself as a student -- he carries a 3.3 GPA -- and citizen.

“My dad always said lead, follow or get out of the way,” Brackett said. “I always tried, all through my life, to be a leader.”

So it was no surprise that his teammates made him a captain. Same for Ogbu, who has always been a good soldier. He is entering his second year as a starter, and fourth year of regular action, but to this point in his career he has been overshadowed by his more celebrated defensive teammates, like departed tackle Jared Odrick.

Being named captain, Ogbu said, “means my team is behind me. … I feel blessed. I feel I can look at that and hang my hat on that.”

His biggest play Saturday was that fourth-down stop -- a fourth-and-two play, specifically, with the Penguins at the PSU 32 and holding a 7-6 lead. He and Crawford stuffed Adaris Bellamy for no gain. And the Lions immediately whisked 68 yards in the other direction, with Bolden hitting Brackett for that 20-yard TD, which put them ahead to stay.

“This is my last year,” Ogbu said. “I naturally have to dominate more than I did before.”

And if he does, it might force everyone to rethink some things.

Fight On State Top Stories