STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Jesse Luketa grew up in Canada with a love for football, a love so great that he wanted to play the game at an elite level.
So he left his home in Ottawa -- at age 14 -- and arrived at Mercyhurst Prep in Erie, Pa. It wasn’t easy for him saying goodbye to his mother and his seven siblings.
“There were times when I was homesick,” Luketa, a sophomore linebacker at Penn State, said in a recent interview. “I would call my Mom on FaceTime and just talk with her. I had told her the whole time before I left Canada that I wanted to do this. So she reminded me to keep me on course and keep me focused.”
Luketa worked diligently to achieve his goals. He earned Pennsylvania All-State honors in 2016 and 2017 at linebacker while also playing wide receiver and signed with the Nittany Lions, where he competed in all 13 games as a freshman last season, mostly on special teams.
He will compete for playing time at linebacker when preseason camp begins in August. He already has impressed the coaches with his continued improvement in testing.
“He can run and he’s very athletic,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry said. “You go back and watch his high school film, watch him as a wide receiver. The catches he made and the routes, he’s got great feet, great agility, incredible maturity, a really hard worker.
“Across the team, he’s the one young man that has shown improvements in every single area of testing. All the different criteria -- broad jump, triple broad, 40-yard dash, weight, body mass, body fat percentage -- he’s shown improvement. He’s just a really good worker, tremendous potential, and I think you’re going to see some big things out of Jesse.”
The 6-foot-3, 241-pound Luketa has succeeded because of his work ethic and self-discipline. He developed those traits while his mother, a single parent, often needed to work late nights and overtime or pick up other shifts.
“I learned at a very young age to have a structured lifestyle and structured time management whenever I did something related to football or academics,” he said. “But the transition from high school to Penn State was still difficult. When I got here, I really had to put an emphasis on my time management from academics to football and manage a social life.
“Our schedule throughout the year during the season is pretty difficult. But as long as you’re consistent as an individual with your craft, with your academics, you’re going to have a smooth time. I know if I do that now it will allow me to put myself in the best position to do what I want to do in the near future.”
The Lions return three experienced linebackers in Micah Parsons, last year’s leading tackler, along with Cam Brown and Jan Johnson while Luketa leads a young group that includes Ellis Brooks and highly regarded freshman Brandon Smith.
He said that while contributing to the team is the main emphasis, he and the other linebackers want to play.
“Last year with a role on special teams, I got to contribute and I was blessed to do so,” he said. “The transition from last year to now, my mind-set is, I’m hungry. I’m eager to contribute on the defensive side of the ball and show our fans and my teammates what we can do.”
And while Luketa is out there following his dreams, the hard work his mother put in to raise eight children remains with him as an example.