While it would appear much too early to predict what players will go in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft, the name of Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth has been on some lists as the No. 1 tight end prospect.
To make sure he stays on that path leading to the draft’s first round, however, Freiermuth must deal with a situation that no one before him has faced — working out on his own at home, speaking with coaches on Zoom instead of a meeting room, and unsure whether a “normal” season even will be played.
Freiermuth said he deleted his social media accounts two weeks ago so as to not get wrapped up in preseason expectations. He also wants to stay away from those who are negative about whether a 2020 football season will take place although he admitted, “I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it.”
“I have the mentality that you wake up every day and think you’re going to have a season,” Freiermuth said last week in a conference call with reporters. “You’re going to have an August training camp. You’re going to have a Sept. 5 start date. You’re going to come back in June or July. You have to have that kind of mentality and be ready to go.
“You’re taking a backseat to this and making excuses not to work out, ‘Oh, we’re not going to have a season.’ Then all of a sudden you’re told to come back and you’re not ready. Then it’s on you. I’m not going to let that happen to myself.”
The 6-foot-5, 259-pound Freiermuth, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season as a sophomore when he caught 43 passes for 507 yards and seven touchdowns, is ranked as the top tight end in early reports on the 2021 NFL draft by ESPN.
He currently works out twice a day near his Merrimac, Mass., home. He lifts weights outside with his trainer and attends virtual team meetings before lunch, then runs routes and throws with his high school teammates in the afternoon. He said he’s made strides after being a self-described “God-awful” route runner as a Nittany Lions freshman.
“I’ve been taking my notes out to the field and I’ll see the route in particular,” he said. “My high school friends have actually been huge, just kind of really helping me work on my goal of having a good year. So they’ve been standing off coverages and all that kind of stuff just to kind of get the right footwork down for a certain route.
“It’s definitely challenging to kind of not be [at Penn State] in spring ball and stuff, but I think I’ve been able to stay pretty consistent with my work ethic.”
Like his Nittany Lions teammates on offense, Freiermuth is learning a retooled system installed by new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. He said the unit has picked it up quickly and that it’s “very simple and very effective and I think it’s going to allow us to play fast.”
However, he wouldn’t give out any hints about the tight end’s role in the offense.
“I’m not going to leak too many details, but obviously there’s some rumors about using the tight ends,” he said. “I can promise you we’re going to be used and have a pretty good season, I hope.”
Both Freiermuth and his head coach, James Franklin, were disappointed last season when the player was not one of the eight semifinalists named in November for the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end, even though the Mackey committee twice named him its tight end of the week.
The snub has left him with plenty of goals in 2020, “to block out the noise and continue to do what my process has been ever since I got to Penn State."