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Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker returns to team for one reason: Making amends for last year

The Nittany Lions' 4-5 season in 2020 remains a bad memory for Brisker and his teammates. He hopes to build on a season when he was named a Pro Football Focus All-America and third-team All-Big Ten.

Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker during the team's media day on Aug. 7.
Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker during the team's media day on Aug. 7.Read moreCRAIG HOUTZ / For The Inquirer

Jaquan Brisker took advantage of the extra year of eligibility allowed by the NCAA after the season of the pandemic and returned to Penn State. And he did it for just one reason.

“The only factor was us going 0-5,” the talented strong safety said Saturday at the Nittany Lions’ media day. “I couldn’t leave on that note, especially with my name on it, and especially I owe it to the fans and I owe it to my family and things like that.

“I couldn’t go 0-5. That was one of the worst records in Penn State history for a while. I knew what type of team we had when I was coming back, and I talked to a couple of guys on the team. I talked to my family and I knew it was the right decision.”

Actually, the Lions rallied from a 0-5 start by winning their last four games. But 4-5 still is unacceptable to the players, being a part of Penn State’s first losing season since 2004.

Brisker will do his best to make sure that doesn’t happen again and he’s got the talent to help back it up. In his second season in the program after transferring from Lackawanna College, Brisker was ranked the nation’s No. 3 safety last year by Pro Football Focus, which charted his play and concluded he compiled a missed-tackle rate of 1.7%. He also earned third-team All-Big Ten honors.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Pittsburgh native finished third on the team with 57 tackles and snared one interception. In the 2021 preseason, he has been named to the watch lists for three postseason honors: the Bednarik Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (both for the top defensive player), and the Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back).

“Sometimes I really don’t pay attention to it,” he said of the awards recognition, “but when it comes, it was earned just from all the hard work in the offseason and on the field. So I can say I enjoy it for that, but other than that, I’m just focused on always getting better and always working on my craft.”

Brisker’s versatility also will help the Nittany Lions. He likes the schemes employed by defensive coordinator Brent Pry where he lines up in different spots, or is sent in on a blitz.

“I would say it fits my style just because I like to be moved around,” he said. “Ever since I was in high school or in midget league, I was always playing more than one position. So it fits me because that’s what I like to do, I like being around the ball, so that’s where I’m comfortable at, being around the ball.”

» READ MORE: Penn State defensive end Adisa Isaac expected to miss most, or all, of the 2021 season with an injury

Brisker may get another chance to be around the football outside of the defense. Special teams coordinator Joe Lorig says he is “definitely in the mix” to be one of the Lions’ return men.

“I like the ball to be in my hands and I feel like I’m a playmaker,” Brisker said. “I’ve always been a playmaker since I was little and I like to do that. Whether that’s kick return, punt return, offense, whatever it is, I’m built for it and I’m ready.”

Brisker’s willingness to do whatever it takes to help the team has made him a strong leader in the eyes of the coaching staff. Pry said his leadership qualities have “really impressed me, and surprised me to a degree.”

“He’s always been one of our best workers, but his consistency off the field, the maturity he shows right now, he’s speaking out, he’s holding guys accountable,” Pry said. “I’m super excited about the role he’s taken and the growth he’s shown.”

Even with Penn State’s players not even a week into training camp, Brisker and his fellow leaders have made their presence known, whether it’s leading by example or being more vocal, taking younger players aside to explain a play or a concept in which they might have done the wrong thing.

That’s important for Brisker, who said after the end of the 2020 season that the Nittany Lions didn’t play up to the standard set by head coach James Franklin and his staff.

“It’s having consistent leaders and just taking it day by day, doing Coach Franklin’s standard,” he said. “That’s a positive attitude, a great work ethic, must be willing to sacrifice and compete. Those are his four core values. As long as we worry about the four core values, we’re going to be fine.”

» READ MORE: Franklin excited about Penn State’s revamped offense under new coordinator Mike Yurcich