The adversity that Nick Tarburton experienced in his first two seasons at Penn State seemed like it would go on forever. Injuries limited him to two games during that time and he admitted they took a toll on him.
Deep down inside, however, he knew he possessed the toughness to go through his rehab and return to the game he loved, which the former Pennridge High School star did on a part-time basis last season and hopes to do as a key contributor to the 2021 Nittany Lions at defensive end.
“I was kind of nicked up in a lot of spots,” Tarburton said Wednesday in a Zoom interview with reporters. “What I learned about myself is, I guess in some ways, as much as I love the game, I’m more than just a football player. I try to do everything I can. I try to control everything I can control, whether that be in the classroom or [in] rehab and just try to be the best person I can be.
“I learned that in tough situations, you can’t be negative. You’ve got to be positive. There’s no other way to kind of formulate it or really do anything because if you’re negative, you’re just going to stay in that same spot. So I guess the biggest thing was just looking myself in the face and seeing how tough I really am and if I can really do and overcome certain things. That’s kind of the biggest thing. It was a wakeup call for sure.”
The 6-foot-3, 253-pound Tarburton, who has not described his specific injuries, took care of what he could control, with his rehabilitation being the primary target, often choosing to ride an exercise bike or go through a workout in the pool.
“It was hard for me to accept,” he said. “I can’t control this. I’m banged up. What I can control is doing everything I can to get back. That’s been my process. COVID was a tough time for everybody [last year]. I was able to get the right treatment and time off to be able to fully recover my body.”
He said he started feeling “close to 100%” about this time a year ago and wound up playing in seven games for the Nittany Lions in his third season in the program, splitting time between defense and special teams.
Tarburton’s comeback has been applauded by coaches and teammates alike.
“The kid has really faced a decent amount of adversity,” head coach James Franklin said. “He has not been healthy consistently since he’s been here. He’s had an unbelievable offseason for us, not only from a health perspective but from a leadership perspective as well. We’re expecting him to have a significant role on our defense and our team.”
Defensive tackle PJ Mustipher said Tarburton “looks extremely good.
“Even starting in the winter, he looked fast and quick,” he said. “Seeing where he’s come from and everything he’s had to deal with, just to be able to bounce back to be out there every day, it’s amazing to watch. He’s worked his butt off. He’s getting better every day. It’s really fun to watch. He’s a good guy, too. I’m proud of him.”
Tarburton, who remains a redshirt sophomore because the 2020 season did not count as a year of eligibility due to the pandemic, was a two-time All-State linebacker at Pennridge. He enrolled early at Penn State and almost immediately was moved to defensive end where he worked hard to become an effective pass rusher.
He said his parents were his biggest influences in helping him get to this point.
“They just said, ‘You can’t be negative. You’ve got to do everything you can to stay positive,’” he said. “And I think through that is kind of how I was able to still formulate these great connections and always be there for my guys no matter what.”
As he and his teammates end spring practice Saturday with a Beaver Stadium scrimmage, Tarburton says he is feeling “the best I have since I’ve gotten up here” to Penn State. It’s been a long, difficult process to reach this point but he values the life lessons he learned along the way.
“I think I was always a tough person to begin with,” he said. “But up until that point, I’ve never really faced any adversity when it came to football or just kind of really in life. Without a doubt, it definitely changed me. It really opened my eyes and I kind of really began to see what’s important in life.”