Zack Kuntz and Pat Freiermuth, a pair of four-star high school tight ends, gave their commitments to Penn State’s freshman class of 2018 three months apart and talked before they enrolled about being a twosome that would provide the Nittany Lions with excellence at the position for a long time.
However, while Freiermuth has rolled up 69 catches, 15 of them for touchdowns, in his first two seasons and is considered an All-America candidate in 2020, Kuntz has not stepped forward as he hoped he would. He redshirted his first season and saw most of his action last year on special teams, snaring just two passes.
Still, with the Lions having enjoyed success last season when lining up with two tight ends, and with a new offensive coordinator in Kirk Ciarrocca, Kuntz is looking for his playing time and his production to increase this year.
“Honestly, Pat’s done a tremendous job and no one can deny that,” Kuntz said Wednesday in a Zoom conference call. “He’s been consistent. He’s played well. He’s come up big for the team when we’ve needed him.
“When we were coming out of high school, we did talk about that, being that dynamic duo. I think now is the perfect opportunity to display that. I think Pat’s shown what he can do, and he can do even more, and I think it’s my time to kind of show what I’m made of and what I’m capable of doing.”
The 6-foot-7 Kuntz continues to get bigger and stronger. Since arriving at Penn State two years ago, he has gone from 220 pounds to 254 and said he is “jumping higher and running faster than when I was lighter.” That has helped his blocking, a point of emphasis for him.
“I have a little more weight, which is definitely going to help a lot — your confidence, your movement and your strength overall,” he said. “Going into this season, I feel a lot more comfortable, the best I’ve ever felt from any other past year. You just want to improve year after year. It’s my job to step into that [No. 2 tight end] role and get the job done for the team.”
Kuntz, a Camp Hill, Pa., native whose older brother, Christian, played wide receiver for the Nittany Lions from 2009 through 2012, and his teammates haven’t had the benefit of spring football practice or other reps in the team’s revamped offense under Ciarrocca because of the pandemic.
But Kuntz believes that coaches and players have been doing a great job of “overpreparing us” in the new offense virtually and that the tight ends will play a key role.
“There’s not a stone unturned in the tight end room when it comes to the new offense,” he said. “We’re very detailed in everything we do because it’s just been meetings. We haven’t had that muscle memory of going out there and doing it. I think the offense is in a great position going into the season.”
Penn State players have been involved in voluntary workouts since June 8. Next week, the Nittany Lions are scheduled to begin organized weight training, conditioning, and film review for a period of up to eight hours per week.
Kuntz said adjustments have had to be made to keep everyone safe since the players’ return to campus and that everyone has heeded head coach James Franklin’s emphasis on the importance of being accountable to one another and doing what is necessary.
“We were cautious around each other when we first got on campus,” he said, “but then once we started to get the negative results, we were a little more comfortable. We won’t go around each other if we know they’ve left State College or been around people where they may be infected with the virus.
“We’ve done a great job of maintaining distances when we needed to, and now that we’re allowed to kind of get back into it a little bit more and more each week.”
And Kuntz said he will continue to find ways to improve.