STATE COLLEGE, Pa. –– The Mackey Award has been the lock screen on Pat Freiermuth’s cell phone since he arrived at Penn State. He also has a picture of the award hanging above his bed in his apartment.
Freiermuth hasn’t accumulated the same amount of receiving yards as other tight ends in the country, but he’s tied for second in the nation in receiving touchdowns among tight ends. His seven receiving touchdowns leads all other Big Ten tight ends by three. But he was not named as one of the eight semifinalists for the award given to the nation’s top tight end earlier this week.
“Yeah, it's disappointing,” Freiermuth said about not being named a semifinalist. “I thought I did everything I could this year so far up to this point to prove that I'm one of the best tight ends in the country.”
His head coach agrees.
“I can't imagine there's eight tight ends in the country that people would choose ahead of Pat Freiermuth,” James Franklin said. “Could there be a couple? Okay, I can live with that. But eight? No, no. I love our guys. I want them to get all the attention that they deserve. Obviously our focus is on the team, Penn State football. But we are big believers that with team's success comes individual recognition.”
But now there’s a very real possibility the sophomore tight end never wins the award –– because Freiermuth is not your typical true sophomore. He’s draft eligible.
“Yeah, I know I am,” Freiermuth said Tuesday when asked if he knows his status for the 2020 NFL Draft.
And it’s not far fetched to think Freiermuth could be one of the first five tight ends drafted in the spring, should he decide to leave Penn State early.
“I think he's really turned himself into a veteran player,” tight ends coach Tyler Bowen said Thursday. “Although he's played a limited number of games in his collegiate career just being a sophomore, he understands things at a very high level. He's not on a 100 level now, he's on a 400 level. And I think that's allowed him to be more anticipatory in some of the things that he's doing on the field.”
One aspect of his game that he’s focused on and see plenty of improvement in is his blocking.
“I think I've done a great job this year at the point of attack, moving dudes off the line of scrimmage,” Freiermuth said. “I do think it's an overlooked part of the tight end. Tight ends that can make plays in the passing game, that's looked at a bunch. But I do think when you look at NFL tight ends, they are asked to block most of the time, too. I think I take great pride in that.”
Aside from the talk about the draft and awards, there’s a big task in front of Freiermuth and the Nittany Lions this week in Columbus.
Penn State controls its own destiny and has the chance to put itself in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten East title with a win over Ohio State this week. Franklin’s “great to elite” comments that came after the Nittany Lions’ one-point loss to the Buckeyes last season still stick with Freiermuth as he looks to help his team avenge that loss.