At least 18 Penn State players were busy after last season checking out the NCAA transfer database and considering better opportunities to play elsewhere. Sixteen Nittany Lions who put their names in, including 11 who already had graduated, moved on to other teams.
The entry of defensive back Lamont Wade into the database, better known as the transfer portal, was a surprise to his teammates but it seemed clear that he was frustrated after failing to get a start in his two seasons -- one at cornerback, one at safety -- since signing as a five-star recruit out of western Pennsylvania power Clairton High School.
Wade stayed, however -- one of two Lions to do so. (Wide receiver Cam Sullivan-Brown was the other.) The 5-foot-9, 199-pound junior worked diligently in spring ball and preseason camp at safety to earn his first career start in Saturday’s season opener against Idaho. It turned out all he wanted was a chance to win the job.
“I feel like this was the best opportunity for me, obviously coming in and getting reps with the ones,” Wade said Wednesday in his first extended comments since deciding to stay. “Another thing, I’m not going to lie, when I was talking to my coaches, they told me that it wasn’t just going to be my spot. They said it wasn’t just going to be given to me.
“We don’t have a next-man-up mentality here. It’s kind of like whoever works for it or whoever deserves it is going to get the spot. That’s something that I really liked. Most places would tell you, ‘Ah, if you come back, you’ll be the starter, or if you do this you’ll be the starter,’ and that wasn’t the case. With the work ethic I have, that was something that I liked to hear.”
Another consideration, he said, was not interrupting his work on his degree as a recreation, parks and tourism management major.
“Definitely, I‘m not that far from graduation so I feel like me leaving or me going somewhere else would have just been another setback for everything I worked for, everything I achieved,” he said. “I didn’t want to take that away from myself.”
Penn State coach James Franklin has called the transfer portal “an interesting circumstance that we’re all in.” He said Tuesday that his conversations with Wade during the player’s deliberations about leaving centered on receiving his degree.
“That’s the most powerful thing and the most important thing,” the 47-year-old Franklin said. “That’s probably my only issue with this whole transfer portal. In my opinion, college athletics used to be academics driven. For us to think that any of these decisions are anything more than football decisions, I don’t think is accurate.
“I think most of these decisions are being driven by football, where the college athletics that I grew up with was driven based on academics.”
Wade admitted he took some steps back last season after playing in all 13 games as a freshman in 2017, but learned some things that helped him prepare for now.
“Sometimes in life, that’s what happens,” he said. “You do take some steps back, not because of your ability or because of what’s going on. It’s just because that sets you up for greater things later. So I feel like that step back my sophomore year … I kind of realized I’ve got to get this together, I’ve got to get myself right in all aspects. That was I think the biggest thing.”
Now he says he’s done with the portal experience, which he called “like high school all over again." He appreciated being welcomed back “with open arms” by his teammates. Franklin said Wade is playing with confidence now and having success.
“That’s a byproduct of everything that he’s been through over the last three years, the recruiting process, the early opportunities that he got, the early opportunities that he didn’t get, the adversity, maybe some of the pressure he was putting on himself, the external expectations,” he said.