Growing up in South Jersey, Phil Trautwein thought Penn State would be the best place to continue his football career after he graduated from Eastern High School.
So when he was invited to Happy Valley to take part in a Nike camp during the summer before his senior year, the Voorhees resident wanted to impress the coaches enough to merit a scholarship offer. It didn’t work out that way, however.
“I wanted to go to Penn State,” Trautwein, now in his first year as the Nittany Lions’ offensive line coach, said Tuesday in a conference call. “I came here actually with a broken foot but I tried to come to camp.
“I was supposed to be in a boot for the camp, but I told the doctor, ‘No, I’m going to try to get an offer from Penn State.’ I probably didn’t do too well because of the broken foot. I ended up not getting an offer.”
Trautwein, who went on to be a part of Eastern’s 2004 Group 4 state championship team, did receive an offer from Florida late in his recruitment and succeeded there, twice making the All-SEC team as a left tackle and playing on the Gators’ 2006 and 2008 national championship teams. Initially signed as an undrafted free agent, he spent four seasons in the NFL before turning to coaching.
After two seasons as offensive line coach at Boston College, he was hired last January to join James Franklin’s staff, finally arriving at the school he always wanted to play for.
“This was a dream for me when I was hoping to play here,” he said. “But now I have an opportunity to coach here. Growing up, Penn State was Penn State. Everyone talked about it like it was the school to go to.
“To coach here is a dream for me. I’m buying a house here. I see myself staying here as long as I can and as long as everything goes as planned. I love it here. This was special. This was a goal. This is where I could see myself being for a very long time.”
The Nittany Lions return all but one offensive lineman, All-Big Ten guard Steven Gonzalez, from last season and have two building blocks in center Michal Menet and tackle Will Fries, both of whom were 2019 honorable- mention all-conference. However, the unit needs to become tighter in pass protection after allowing 32 sacks in 2019 and ranking 98th in FBS.
Trautwein thinks the 6-foot-6, 309-pound Fries can take a big leap forward this season.
“He showed me a picture of a punching bag he built in the backyard,” he said. “That's the mentality that I love, that mentality I want from my offensive line. For Will, this is a big season for him. I think he's taking it that way. He wants to be all-Big Ten and he wants to be drafted. That's his mindset, and I think he has the ability to.”
Redshirt junior Des Holmes, who starred at Cardinal O’Hara, has impressed the new coach with his drive and work ethic, and will benefit from his versatility in his bid for playing time.
“He can play both left and right guard and tackle,” Trautwein said. “So he’s a guy that can play four positions, which I think is key, developing him and being able to have that depth.”
Boston College’s offensive linemen enjoyed success under Trautwein. All five starters earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference recognition last season, allowing 13 sacks (fourth-fewest in FBS) and leading the Eagles’ ground game to 253.3 yards per game, eighth in the nation.
Trautman, like all the coaches, has had to adapt to the current situation. He spent barely two months with his linemen before the campus shut down and players were sent home to take classes online and learn and discuss football through Zoom meetings. A significant factor is getting the older players to buy in to what he’s teaching, and it seems to be working.
“That’s what coaching’s all about, getting them to buy in,” he said. "At the end of the day, if you get your offensive line to believe in what you do and how you do it, you’ll be successful.
One friend who will be cheering him on is fellow Eastern High graduate Adam Taliaferro, who suffered an injury in 2000 that paralyzed him, and inspired Trautwein with his courageous battle to walk again.