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Freshmen sensations: How 6 Penn State football rookies could spark 2024 season

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Penn State football still needs a receiver, a running back and an offensive lineman to step up this summer.

A perfect true freshman opportunity.

While most of the Nittany Lions’ depth chart will be filled by returning, experienced players, there are a few glaring position needs to account for by any means possible in preseason camp.

Which means the next two months are particularly important for the members of Penn State’s 2024 recruiting class, who began arriving on campus last January.

A half-dozen or so in the class should burn their redshirts this fall by playing in four or more games.

And at least a couple figure to carve out important roles, if only as top backups. Could anyone become the next freshman star like Nick Singleton or Abdul Carter two years ago?

Here are the Penn State rookies in line to play right away in 2024. They’re listed in order of expected contributions, from least to most likely:

6. Luke Reynolds, tight end

Luke Reynolds made a stunning transition from a decent high school quarterback into one of the top tight end prospects in the country — and has seemingly continued that rise since arriving at Penn State. He’s bulked up to 230 pounds, which gives him a shot to contribute right away. The caveat is working in one of the most crowded position groups in the Big Ten. Will Penn State game days continue to feature three tight ends under new coordinator Andy Kotelnicki? Reynolds owns the ability, especially as a pass-catcher, to press backups Khalil Dinkins, Andrew Rappleyea and Joey Schlaffer for playing time.

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5. Dejuan Lane, safety

One of the most intriguing prospects in the entire class. Dejuan Lane offers immediate, high-end size (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) and speed (member of his school’s record-breaking 400 meter relay team). He’d be a true early-playing-time leader if not for Penn State’s unusually stacked safety room. Starters KJ Winston and Jaylen Reed are All-Big Ten players and Zakee Wheatley is a proven playmaker. Still, Lane should see ample special teams time and could push for the key No. 4 spot in the rotation.

4. Ethan Grunkemeyer, quarterback

The coveted four-star recruit is the current leader for the undervalued No. 3 quarterback spot. Ethan Grunkemeyer (a Top 10 QB in the 2024 recruiting class) appears talented enough to own it, especially since an offseason injury to redshirt freshman QB Jaxson Smolik. It’s an even more valuable spot now at Penn State: Any type of injury to starter Drew Allar and highly-used backup Beau Pribula puts Grunkemeyer on high alert.

3. Tyseer Denmark, receiver

Penn State’s receiver room is the most wide-open on the entire team. Enter Tyseer Denmark, who just tore up a Maryland all-star team in the annual Big 33 Game with impressive ball skills and confident playmaking. He seems poised to make an immediate impact, despite not arriving on campus until this month. Who will block his way? No one beyond expected starters Julian Fleming and Tre Wallace own playing-time guarantees.

2. Quinton Martin, running back

The Lions need a No. 3 tailback. Quinton Martin will battle redshirt freshman Cam Wallace to be the top backup to co-starters Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen. The Pittsburgh-area star immediately impressed this spring despite minor injury issues. He’s talented enough to find the field, if needed, as a kickoff returner or as an extra receiver.

1. Cooper Cousins, offensive line

Cooper Cousins has been described as Penn State’s most advanced true freshman offensive lineman in years.

For starters, The Erie native owns the proper pedigree (top interior offensive line recruit in the country) and required physicality, at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, to handle Big Ten defenders. His early work ethic, confidence and mentality, though, are what truly have pushed him near the top of the depth chart, according to teammates and coaches.

Cousins’ versatility also is key. While he could earn the critical backup duties at center, he also reportedly worked well at guard during spring drills.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at  fbodani@ydr.com and follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @YDRPennState.

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