McGovern enters third season leading Penn State’s O-line at guard

By Paul Sokoloski - [email protected]
Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern is on the move again this season, returning to the right guard position he manned as a freshman. - Joe Hermitt | AP file photo, PennLive.com

From the time he arrived at Penn State, Connor McGovern has been in non-stop motion.

He’s dominated defensive linemen, hammered open holes that produced touchdowns, protected the passer, found a fumble in a bowl game and made playing center a snap.

So what’s another position switch?

For the third time in his three years at Penn State, McGovern will line up in a different spot on the offensive line when he shifts over from center to right guard to begin the 2018 season.

“I’m very comfortable switching back and forth,” McGovern said.

Apparently.

A dominant Wyoming Valley Conference center during his high school days at Lake-Lehman, McGovern became an all-state offensive lineman, a U.S. Army All-American and a finalist for Pennsylvania’s Mr. Football award before he enrolled early at Penn State with the intention of becoming an immediate starter.

He did, but at another position.

Following an experiment at tackle during spring practice in 2016, he lined up at left guard in a season-opening victory over Kent State and took over that starting position a month into his freshman season. By the time the season finished, McGovern had earned a Big Ten Freshman of the Week award, was an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten freshman team and recovered a fumble in the Rose Bowl while helping the Lions rack up 465 yards of total offense.

“My freshman year when I played guard, (it) was the first time I didn’t play center,” McGovern said.

He found himself snapping the ball again pretty quickly, though.

From the start of the 2017 season, the 6-foot-5, 326-pound McGovern shifted back to center, where he started all 13 games for Penn State as a sophomore. He helped paved the way for departed running back Saquon Barkley to amass a career-high 211 rushing yards and school-record 358 all-purpose yards. He helped give quarterback Trace McSorley enough time to keep putting up 300-yard passing games.

And McGovern was right in the middle of a line that opened up a video game offense that consistently rolled up eye-popping yardage and point totals, including a 63-point performance against Maryland for a Penn State record in the Big Ten, a 609-yard day against Nebraska and a 545-yard offensive explosion in the Fiesta Bowl that set a Lions bowl game record.

“I’m excited to play anywhere,” McGovern said, “especially (after) playing my true freshman year.”

He better be.

Because this year, Penn State’s plan is to put McGovern at right guard.

The move was made with the idea in mind that with sophomore Michal Menet at center and McGovern right beside him, the Lions line will be downright overpowering against even the toughest defensive fronts.

“I was excited about the offensive line last year,” Penn State coach James Franklin said, “and I think we’ve made great progress.”

Much of that progress is in the ability of the Lions linemen to quickly switch positions.

“I think versatility’s very important,” McGovern said. “When I first got here, we really didn’t have much depth. Now we have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions. We’ve got guys at every position who could just rotate in and out. Will Fries can play both tackle positions.”

McGovern found out about his new position on the first day of preseason camp, but he’s been preparing for the change for awhile.

“All spring me and Mike have been rotating in and out,” McGovern said. “Then all summer we worked with me at guard, just to get more comfortable.”

Not that he was ever uncomfortable. McGovern can lean on his experience from his freshman college season on the left side of the line, add a little of what he learned as a Big Ten center last year, and bring it all over to right guard this season.

“Last year, being at center forced me to be more vocal,” McGovern said. “That’s going to carry over to this year.”

The move may not be permanent. If Menet starts to struggle, the Lions won’t hesitate to send McGovern back to center. But the plan is to have them both blocking next to each other for the duration of the season.

“(Offensive line) coach (Matt) Limegrover has done a terrific job of building a culture in that room,” Lions offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said. “I’m looking forward to the consistency those guys are going to bring.”

So are they.

“Another great year,” McGovern said he’s expecting, “another bowl game. Just come out as a team, win every week.

“Can’t wait to get after it.”

Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern is on the move again this season, returning to the right guard position he manned as a freshman.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/web1_AP18181778546158.jpgPenn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern is on the move again this season, returning to the right guard position he manned as a freshman. Joe Hermitt | AP file photo, PennLive.com

By Paul Sokoloski

[email protected]

Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski

Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski