Penn State coaches and players have seen the commitment made by Lamont Wade in football, how he progressed from a backup in the secondary to a full-time starter at safety and honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season.
This dedication and perseverance has quite a bit to do with 2-year-old Roman, Wade’s son. The toddler has given Wade’s life a special purpose as he prepares for the opening game of his senior season and what he hopes will be a chance at the NFL.
Head coach James Franklin has seen the change fatherhood has made in Wade.
“I think obviously it gives you a different perspective,” Franklin said last Wednesday. "It forces you to grow up and mature. Whether you want to or not, you’ve got no choice. I remember being 35 years old and having my first child and feeling like I wasn’t ready. I’ve seen how Lamont has handled all this and the pride he takes in it.
“I just see his approach to everything, the attention to detail, is on a completely different level and his alignment with the coaches and reinforcing messages and being a leader for the young guys. I think that’s Lamont naturally growing up in our program as a senior, but I think that’s also based on his personal background as well, with his Mom and Dad, who are phenomenal, and also obviously him being a father.”
Wade, 21, who has been outspoken on Twitter and other social media about racial inequality, said his focus is more on his son than it is on the opinions of the outside world.
“Fatherhood probably changed my life for the best because it grounded me more to a sense of my more human side,” he said. "When I had my son, I stopped caring about what everybody else thought. I stopped caring about what everybody else did, and I just decided that I’m living for me and him now.
“Before, I was kind of worried about getting comments or backlash from people, or I was worried about just everything that didn’t really matter. So I guess having him brought that sense of what I’ve really got to do, that sense of priorities, to me.”
Defensive end Shaka Toney, who starred at Philly’s Imhotep Charter High School and is one of Wade’s roommates, said he sees that commitment from Wade.
“Coming from my city, I know a lot of people whose fathers aren’t there,” said Toney, whose own father died when he was 2. “Lamont’s grown so much in maturity and as a person from having a child and the responsibility, and he’s stepped up to that plate. Any chance he gets, he’ll drive the 2 ½ hours after practice just to go talk to his son, or to be there if something is wrong. Lamont’s a great dad.”
It’s been a significant turnaround for Wade, who was considered the top high school prospect in Pennsylvania in his senior season at Clairton High School. However, he did not start a game for the Nittany Lions in his first two years and put his name in the NCAA transfer portal after the Citrus Bowl.
But Wade and his parents discussed the situation with Penn State’s Franklin, and Wade elected to return to Penn State. He started all 13 games in 2019, finished fourth on the team in tackles, and drew national attention when he forced three fumbles and recovered one against No. 2 Ohio State in Columbus.
Wade wants to continue on that track. He kept his emotions in check, which he said worried his mother, after the Big Ten decided in August not to have a season, then went right back to work when the conference changed course.
He said coming from a tough, low-income area in Clairton, he has seen players better than him not make it, and he’s grateful he has the support of his parents in striving toward his goal of the NFL.
“That’s one of the things that kept me grounded,” he said. “I have best friends sitting in jail right now. I have best friends dead right now. My support system is really what kept me from being dead or in jail, so I thank my family tremendously. Whenever I get to that next level, I can’t wait to be a blessing to somebody else, like to my mother, as much as she has sacrificed for me.”
Wade now wants to make those same sacrifices for his son. He enjoyed the time he spent with Roman last spring when the campus was shut down due to the pandemic. He said in a May interview that his wish for his son was to “grow up in some type of environment where everybody does things through love and peace.”
Now he has a chance to do it.