STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Nick Tarburton has been playing football since the age of 5. He learned about the game well enough growing up to become a two-time all-state linebacker at Pennridge High School and earn a scholarship to Penn State.
The learning never stops, however. Tarburton enrolled at the university early enough to participate in last year’s spring practice, where he was told he would probably get on the field faster if he changed to defensive end. So he gladly took on the challenge of the new position.
At 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Tarburton has shown the same skills at stuffing the run that he exhibited at linebacker. Now he wants to become proficient at the moves required of a skilled pass rusher.
“Transitioning was a little tough,” Tarburton said Wednesday during a media availability with members of the Nittany Lions’ 2018 freshman class.
“I knew that I was able to stop the run well. My biggest thing was starting to work in some pass rush moves, being able to get after the quarterback and just learn different techniques and stuff like that. That’s what really I’ve been keying on this spring.”
Moves on which he’s been working are studying offensive tackles’ stances and making sure his hand placement can give him an advantage getting off the line of scrimmage, “just different ways to kind of better yourself” on the rush.
Tarburton played in the Nittany Lions’ first two games last season against Appalachian State and Pittsburgh but did not see any additional action, so he returns next season as a redshirt freshman. He did, however, win the program’s scout team defensive player of the week honor for the games against Indiana and Wisconsin.
He said he received valuable help from the regular defensive ends, including the Philadelphia connection of Shareef Miller and Shaka Toney.
“They were big in my transition into everything, from getting into a stance to learning how to rush the passer,” he said. “They helped me with every little thing, whether it was technique or anything. It was good. They always stepped in and helped me.”
This will be a valuable summer for Tarburton. Even though there are no organized team practices, players at various position groups get together to work on their own.
“Kind of how it works is, we’ll do a typical workout,” he said, “and then we’ll break up into positions and we’ll just go over position work and stuff like that to kind of get better and just continue to work technique and stuff like that.
“I know I’ve got to get back and work extremely hard, continue to hammer on my techniques and also just get quicker, faster and stronger. This summer’s going to be huge.”
In addition to playing football as a youth, Tarburton also played basketball and baseball. But the call of football got stronger and he grew older.
“Both my parents played basketball and really liked it,” he said. “But it just got to that point where I loved hitting people. I kind of stopped playing baseball early on. Then basketball, I stopped my sophomore year of high school. Ever since then, it’s been just football.”
With football, Tarburton hopes there is a role in the Lions’ rotation of talented but mostly young defensive ends.