The fourth and final season at Penn State is closing in for Grant Haley.
The Nittany Lion cornerback, having evolved from a BTN All-Freshman in 2014 to the co-author of one of the program’s most iconic plays, returning a blocked field goal 60-yards for a touchdown to upset No. 2 Ohio State last season, is officially one of the older guys now. And with that veteran status, Haley fully has embraced its implicit responsibilities.
“It’s on me to take leadership and pass it on to the young guys,” said Haley. “When I leave here, it's on me also to help them learn and grow as players as well. So I think even when I'm gone, I have to leave my lasting impact, not only on the field but toward them. That's what I look forward to, helping them and growing them as players.”
The feeling is particularly true at the position Haley calls home.
Joined by Christian Campbell as a senior for the 2017 season, the cornerbacks feature similarly extensive playing experience in the form of John Reid and Amani Oruwariye, both having junior eligibility. Though a spring injury is expected to keep Reid sidelined for the entirety of the upcoming season, a “big brother program” established by assistant coach Terry Smith has paired the group’s veterans with its younger players including Lamont Wade, Tariq Castro-Fields, D.J. Brown and Donovan Johnson, all Class of 2017 members.
Haley, paired with Johnson, said he’s working to instill the group’s work ethic, standards and habits this summer.
“If you think about it, there's a lot of older guys like me, Christian, even John when he's back and Amani. So it's a lot of upperclassmen and a lot of people who have seen the field,” said Haley. “But when we're gone, it's all younger guys, so you gotta realize that their time is going to come, but they're a couple of plays from playing. I think Coach Smith does a good job telling the older guys to meet with the younger guys. It's really important to just hammer into those young guys how we do things around here, the way we practice, the way we play.”
Admitting he’s growing impatient for the program’s informal summer workouts to transition into the excitement of the start of summer camp later this month, those practice standards have been an important piece to preparing for what’s ahead.
Having the experience of four summers now in the program, Haley’s perspective on this group, this year, is especially positive.
“I think being here for a couple of years, I would say this has been our best summer,” said Haley. “I just think we're just ready. We're confident, everyone is confident. Going into the season, we're not really worried about expectations, we're just worried about ourselves, which is the most important thing.
“I feel like as a team, the culture, the chemistry and the locker room is just off the charts, with the coaches too. It's just clicking right now.”