Saturday, July 12, 2014





Walk-onā??s mission is to play vs. Navy


February 17. 2013 12:23AM


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A large cloud of sand kicked up from the ocean floor. Everything around P.J. Byers went to black.


The sun was setting at Pearl Harbor, but there was still work to be done for the Navy diver and Penn State fullback, who was still underwater.


He was working on repairs underneath a submarine when a part he and his team were working with fell 40-some feet down to the bottom. The soot took away what little light that was reaching them at dusk.


"It pretty much made our flashlights useless," Byers said. "It was like putting a blindfold on you. That really scared me at first."


But the panic soon faded. Air was being supplied to him from the surface and three years of dive training kicked in, helping him finish the job.


He's worked on subs in Hawaii. Trained with dolphins in San Diego to find underwater explosives in San Diego. Now his naval career has brought him to Penn State as a step in the road to becoming an officer.


Always looking to be active, Byers walked on to the football team in 2010. This week he's working with the scout team offense as the Nittany Lions prepare to face Navy on Saturday.


It will be Military Appreciation Day at Beaver Stadium. Byers and teammate Brent Smith, a Marine who has served two tours of duty in Iraq, will be part of the acknowledgements.


Byers, a western Pennsylvania native, originally looked at becoming a Navy SEAL but was not admitted to the program because of his eyesight. So he spent parts of six years learning to become a dive specialist before being accepted into the officer's program.


"You're in a different world," Byers said of his underwater career. "It's just you and your diving buddy next to you accomplishing a mission, working on a job.


"Think of someone working on a car outside, on an engine, and they're doing that without the water aspect around them. So add the environment around us, and it's just a really cool experience that nobody really gets to see. But we see it everyday underwater."


Byers got a carry last season in a blowout against Eastern Michigan. He hasn't seen the field this season, but this week's game against the Midshipmen naturally holds some extra meaning for him.


"Oh, if I got any kind of carry – any kind of blocking, any kind of playing time – it would mean the world to me," Byers said. "I'm already more than grateful that I have a position on the team. Any kind of playing time is phenomenal. And against the Navy, it would be awesome for me."


Mystery man

Byers may get a chance to make that cameo.


Speaking at his weekly radio show on Thursday, Lions coach Bill O'Brien added a twist for the crowd at the live broadcast when discussing the tailback situation.


"There'll be one other guy back there yet that you haven't seen carrying the football," O'Brien said. "We'll leave that for Saturday."


The top two guys on the depth chart – Bill Belton and Derek Day – remain day-to-day, according to O'Brien, calling into question their availability for Saturday.


Curtis Dukes, Zach Zwinak and fullback Michael Zordich have all been working with the first-team offense at tailback in practice this week.


While true freshman Akeel Lynch's name comes to mind, O'Brien made it sound like it could be a non-running back who gets a shot. With him putting linebacker Gerald Hodges back for kick and punt returns in the opener, that leaves the door open for just about anyone.


One less kicker on the sideline

For the second time this week, a player has left the Lions. This time, however, it was a non-scholarship reserve.


Backup kicker Matt Marcincin is no longer with the team, Penn State confirmed Thursday. The Centre Daily Times first reported his exit.


Marcincin was one of three players listed as a placekicker on the roster along with starter Sam Ficken and newcomer Jason DiSanto.


O'Brien defended Ficken this week following the loss to Virginia in which he missed four field goals and had an extra point blocked. Ficken has not been seriously challenged for the starting job and Marcincin had not appeared on any depth charts this season.


"Sam's a very mature guy," O'Brien said Thursday. "Someday I'll be working for him."


UP NEXT


Navy at Penn State




TV: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, ABC, WNEP-16



Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park.



Last Meeting: Navy defeated PSU 7-6 on Sept. 21, 1974.





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