STATE COLLEGE - Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said Saturday that on more than one occasion over the last several months, end Carl Nassib has approached him with a request.
"Invest in me," Nassib told him. "I'm a good investment."
It was clear after the Blue-White Game, the scrimmage marking the end of the Nittany Lions' spring practice, that the coaching staff is prepared to do just that.
"He's a beast," Shoop said of the Malvern Prep graduate. "He's the type of guy who I think will come out of nowhere and [have] the type of year that could be an All-Big Ten-caliber year . . . He could be a 5- or 10-year veteran in the NFL. He's got a lot of potential."
Nassib, a one-time walk-on, has been a backup the last two seasons. But on Saturday the rising senior lined up with the first-string defense, with another first-time starter, Garrett Sickels, at the other end. They replace Northeast High product Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan, who started at those positions on the Lions' highly ranked defense a year ago.
"I made a comment a couple weeks ago that I didn't think that [spot] would be a question mark anymore," head coach James Franklin said, adding that he believes Nassib is poised for "a breakout year."
Nassib was credited with a single tackle for a 3-yard loss in the scrimmage, helping the Blue team to a 17-7 victory. The reserve defensive linemen, playing for the White, recorded five sacks, raising further questions about PSU's beleaguered offensive line.
There would appear, however, to be few questions about a defense that returns seven starters. Last year that unit finished second among the nation's 125 major-college teams in yardage allowed (278.7 per game) and pass efficiency (101.14 rating), third against the rush (100.5), seventh in points allowed (18.6) and ninth in passing yardage allowed (178.2).
Nyeem Wartman, a Philadelphia native who played high school ball at Valley View, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, did not play Saturday because of an unspecified injury. He had been practicing at middle linebacker after starting on the outside last fall, and is first in line to replace Mike Hull, the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year in 2014.
The returning strongside 'backer is Brandon Bell, of Mays Landing, N.J. He can only hope to make an impact similar to that of the man who once wore the No. 11 jersey he requested this season - LaVar Arrington, an All-America linebacker for the Lions in 1998 and '99.
Bell, who previously wore No. 26, said he always wanted No. 11, but for one reason or another was never able to get it until now. And when asked last week about the connection to Arrington, he said there was no added pressure.
"I do recognize the player that wore the number before me," he said, "but I think it's just a number at the end of the day."
Arrington responded to Bell last Thursday by posting a photo collage of himself on Twitter, which he advised the younger man to print out and hang on a wall.
"You wear 11 as [an] LB at PSU, you better own it," Arrington wrote, adding the hashtags "justa#" and "huh."
When informed of the tweet, Bell said his reaction was simple: "Oh, snap."
"I wasn't trying to give you [media] guys any fire," he said Saturday. "Of course it flipped on me, so you guys had some ammo. It's all good, I think. I didn't mean any harm."
He also said Arrington "has a right" to be upset.
"He made the number what it is today," he said. "I'll honor the number, definitely."
As for Nassib, he was a lightly recruited 6-6, 215-pounder when he walked on at Penn State in 2011, thinking as much about medical school as football. He redshirted that fall and didn't play a down the following year, but was nonetheless rewarded with a scholarship before the 2013 season by the previous head coach, Bill O'Brien.
Nassib, whose older brother Ryan played quarterback at Syracuse and is now Eli Manning's backup with the New York Giants, has recorded 19 tackles and two sacks as a reserve over the last two seasons.
Franklin, a Langhorne native, has called him "Mr. Consistent," and offensive tackle Andrew Nelson recently said Nassib, who now weighs 270 pounds, is "one of the best ends I think I've ever played against at Penn State or throughout my games of playing in the Big Ten."