Tackle Donovan Smith, the most experienced player on the young Penn State offensive line for much of the 2014 season, announced Monday he has decided to enter the NFL draft.
The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Smith, a redshirt junior who started 31 games at left tackle over the last three seasons, will forgo his final season of eligibility.
In a release issued by Penn State athletic communications, Smith said "it seems like it was yesterday" since he sat down with former coach Joe Paterno to discuss his plans after high school in Owings Mills, Md.
"I promised him and my family that I would get my degree," Smith said. "After achieving one of my life goals of receiving a degree from [Penn State], I feel it's time to continue the pursuit of my dream of becoming an NFL player. The past four years have been a physical and emotional roller coaster but have ultimately made me a better man."
Smith graduated earlier this month with a degree in criminology.
Smith, who was on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy given to the nation's outstanding lineman, was the only returning 2013 starter on the offensive line at the beginning of the season. He missed games against Maryland and Indiana with an undisclosed injury.
He started the last three games alongside Miles Dieffenbach, another returning 2013 starter who missed much of the season recovering from knee surgery.
The inexperience of the line as a whole led to struggles on offense. The Nittany Lions finished last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing offense and total offense and gave up 44 sacks.
Penn State has signed tackle Paris Palmer, a junior college transfer from Plymouth, N.C., and has three tackles who redshirted this season to compete for a starting job next year.
QB signs early. The team announced that Tommy Stevens, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound dual-threat quarterback from Indianapolis, has signed a letter of intent and plans to enroll at Penn State next month.
Stevens, who earned a three-star rating from several recruiting services, withdrew a commitment to Indiana and later pledged to the Nittany Lions. He accounted for 16 touchdowns passing and 10 touchdowns rushing last season at Decatur Central High School. He also made the all-state team as a defensive back.
Stevens is the third player from the Class of 2015 to sign early, joining offensive tackles Palmer and Sterling Jenkins of Pittsburgh.
Help on the way. The Nittany Lions had fewer than 50 scholarship players available late in the season because of injuries and freshmen who were held back as redshirts. Thanks to the NCAA's removal of scholarship limits, they will get closer to the NCAA maximum of 85 scholarships next season.
"We want to get to a point," coach James Franklin said, "that at every single position, not only do we have a good player there as a starter, but we have another player behind him that can get the job done, then another player being groomed. We don't have that right now."