STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Penn State head coach James Franklin’s declaration after April’s Blue-White Game that the battle for the starting quarterback job would be “more of a true competition” likely set the wheels in motion for fifth-year senior Tommy Stevens’ transfer.
Before the week was out, Stevens’ father said his son, who was limited during spring football while recovering from foot surgery, would not be returning. The quarterback eventually decided on Mississippi State, coached by former Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, for his final season of eligibility.
On Wednesday, Franklin, in his first comments since Stevens announced he was leaving, wished the quarterback well.
“I want what’s best for Tommy,” he said at a media availability on the team’s practice fields. “I want what’s best for Penn State football. I want what’s best for college football. It seems like every day you go on social media or the Internet and there’s some story out there that’s going on with transfers.
“But at the end of the day, I care about Tommy. He did wonderful things for us in our program, and I wish him nothing but success. Obviously, I want to make sure that Penn State is going to be successful.”
Stevens’ departure meant there would be two quarterbacks who have spent at least one season in the program – redshirt sophomore Sean Clifford and redshirt freshman Will Levis – to compete in training camp to succeed Trace McSorley.
Franklin said it was a “blessing in disguise” in some ways that Clifford took the second-team reps last season that probably would have gone to Stevens, who was nursing the foot injury prior to his December surgery.
“We have a lot of confidence in Sean and what he’s been able to do,” he said. “He was able to get work last year that probably would have been Tommy’s work. Obviously Levis now is thrust into a more-significant situation.”
Asked about Clifford’s leadership style, Franklin replied, “He’s probably a little bit more in your face.”
“Trace kind of had a little bit more of a easygoing kind of temperament, and it would flare up and spike up at times when he felt the team needed that,” he said. “I would say Sean is probably more kind of direct and a little bit more aggressive on a day-to-day interaction.”
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne described Clifford as competitive and a hard worker “who wants to excel in everything he does [and] is extremely confident in his abilities.”
He said Levis has an “extremely strong arm,” is “a better athlete than people probably give him credit for, and is incredibly intelligent.”
“So they’re very similar in a lot of different ways,” Rahne said. “So just having them in the room, they’re good friends, and they work well together, which is something that’s kind of been the trademark of that position here for a while. So I’m excited about this year.”
Franklin expects one of two true freshmen, Michael Johnson Jr. and Ta’Quan Roberson, to join the quarterback competition and make it a three-way battle. Both enrolled in January and practiced this spring.