Penn State’s Jayson Oweh possesses many of the physical gifts – freakish speed, size, quickness and agility – to be an elite defensive end and some mock NFL Drafts have noticed, listing the redshirt sophomore as a first-round pick in 2021.
However, since he only started playing serious organized football as a junior at Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., Oweh is still learning the game and its complexities and the essential information he needs to know. He’s thriving in that department, though, thanks to his Philadelphia connection.
Deion Barnes, who played at Northeast High School and Penn State and is now a graduate assistant with the Nittany Lions, works often with Oweh on the more technical aspects of the game. Senior Shaka Toney, who starred at Imhotep Charter and starts at the opposite defensive end spot, “has shown me the ropes on and off the field,” Oweh said.
The 6-foot-5, 252-pound Oweh made everyone sit up and take notice last season when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds, a remarkable time for someone of his weight. In receiving Barnes' instruction and Toney’s advice, to go with his own maturation, he is getting to the point where “he’s really starting to put it all together,” head coach James Franklin said.
“His high school program did a tremendous job getting him prepared and ready, but obviously there’s a big difference between what he faced in high school and in the Big Ten,” Franklin said Wednesday night after practice.
“But he’s done a great job. He’s practicing so much differently right now this year than at any point before. The battles between our offensive tackles and D-ends have been really fun to watch, and I think him and Shaka are feeding off each other.”
Oweh said he is very appreciative with what Barnes, who played at Penn State from 2012 through 2014, has taught him.
“Since he came here, he’s taking me under his wing and really tried to get me right in all aspects of the game, in terms of hand work,” he said. “Over the summer, he just really helped me in terms of hand work, film, just understanding the game more. So I really owe a lot of my development to him. And the thing about him, he’s very relatable as well. He has a lot of what Shaka brings to the table.”
Barnes also has helped him understand the terminology of football and now he knows "how to apply it in the right places.
“I was really grateful for that because I just didn’t understand it at that level in the prior years,” Oweh said. “So it’s just the way he approached it with me and how he explained it.”
Oweh said Toney is “like my big brother."
“That’s one of his best skills,” he said. “He knows how to relate to all types of people. He can talk to you. He knows how to teach you the right way and approach you. I’m really appreciative of what Shaka has done for me. It works both ways. I help him. He helps me. That’s why our relationship is going to continue to get stronger.”
Toney said Oweh hasn’t fallen victim to the hype that followed him to Penn State and is "working harder than he has before.
“He’s come out every day and attacked practice,” Toney said. “He makes me better. He makes sure that I’m competing and staying on my game. He makes the rest of the defensive line better and our defense better.”
In his second career start last week, Oweh had two tackles but his play was recognized by Pro Football Focus, which gave him the highest grade of any defensive player in the Big Ten. He said it was good to get on the field the Big Ten had threatened to cancel football.
“It gave me some jitters at first but then once I started playing, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m starting here, I can play with these guys,’ ” he said. “It was fun. It just felt so good being out there after so much uncertainty. It felt good.”
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