If Adam Breneman sounds older than his 18 years when he talks, it’s understandable. Along with the rest of his recruiting class, the Penn State tight end has already been through more than most true freshmen.
Since verbally committing to the Nittany Lions in March 2012, Breneman had been anointed the nation’s top high school tight end. He tore his ACL in the summer before his senior season, leading to a decision to graduate high school early to come to Penn State last January.
On top of that, he had to sort through the aftermath of the infamous Freeh Report and the ensuing NCAA sanctions that rocked his school of choice.
“It seems like a long time ago,” Breneman said Wednesday. “I was just talking to a friend about it the other day. It feels like I’ve been here so long and I haven’t even been here a whole year yet. I committed back in my junior year of high school and it seems like forever ago.
“I was so excited to get here, and it’s been everything I expected it to be.”
One of the top recruits in Penn State’s abbreviated 2013 signing class, Breneman has gradually earned a bigger role in the Lions offense in this, his first year on campus.
Rotating in mostly at F-tight end with Kyle Carter, Breneman saw more snaps in last week’s loss to Minnesota. He had two catches for 27 yards and earned some praise from Bill O’Brien.
“Yeah, he’s definitely improved,” the Penn State coach said. “I thought he played very well against Minnesota, I really did. I thought he blocked well and I thought he caught the ball when it was thrown to him. He made some big plays for us in the game.
“So he’s a … young player who’s got a really bright future here. He’s a great kid, practices hard, practices hurt. He’s had some ankle issues and foot issues this year, and he’s practiced with it and done a nice job. Hopefully he’ll keep contributing over the last three games here, and we can continue to try to get him the ball and help him in that area, too.
“But I’ve got a lot of confidence that he’s only going to get better.”
Through nine games, Breneman has modest stats — just nine catches for 84 yards, good for eighth place on the team in both categories. But as O’Brien has said many times, the tight end is the second hardest position to pick up in his offense because players at the position must learn two distinct roles that require them to line up most anywhere on the field.
Both O’Brien and Breneman said his blocking has improved, which has been the biggest step in getting more game action. At Cedar Cliff High School, Breneman admits that despite being labeled a tight end, he was essentially a wide receiver because of his athleticism and rarely if ever lined up with a hand on the ground.
“I think coming into Penn State early and being able to go through spring practice helped me a lot,” Breneman said. “It’s like learning a whole different language, learning all the words and their meanings. I’ve got it down pretty good now.”
The early entry also allowed him to rehab his knee with Penn State’s medical staff, ease back into football and trust his knee during spring ball. By the time preseason camp rolled around in August, he was ready to contribute with O’Brien quickly announcing publicly that Breneman would not redshirt.
He’s been able to make that transition along with friend Christian Hackenberg. The quarterback and tight end became good friends as two of the first commitments to 2013 class.
That relationship has helped both adjust to college football and college life in general.
“That’s huge,” Hackenberg said. “We had gone through a lot together during the recruiting process. So being able to go through the same thing on the field is huge. I talk to him about how he feels, and it’s helped us.
“I’m really proud of him. I have a lot of respect for Adam, his work ethic and how he approaches practice each day.”
The connection between the quarterback and the tight end represents the new era at Penn State.
Both players committed to O’Brien before the sanctions and vowed to stick it out and build something with him for the future.
“Once the sanctions came out, I faced an enormous amount of pressure to stay or leave,” Breneman said. “It was a tough choice — 17 years old and it would impact my whole future.
“At the end of day, you give your word and you don’t turn your back on it. What kind of guy would I be if I turned my back on Coach O’Brien and Penn State? It’s a huge amount of trust. No matter how tough things get, you owe it to that person to keep your word.”