As Penn State looks to retool a defense that saw five players from last year get selected in the recent NFL Draft and replace the defensive coordinator – Brent Pry is now the head coach at Virginia Tech – a player from the Delaware Valley should figure prominently.
Nick Tarburton was a four-star recruit out of Pennridge High School in Bucks County. As a linebacker, he was twice named to the Pennsylvania Football Writers All-State Class 6A first team.
He signed with the Nittany Lions, was an early enrollee in January of 2018, and from there, injuries sidetracked his career. In his first three seasons on campus - Tarburton, now a defensive lineman - appeared in nine games and his biggest contribution may have been a 15-yard kickoff return against Michigan State in 2020.
That changed in 2021, finally healthy, he played in all 13 games with eight starts. He had 30 tackles, four for loss, and recorded his first sack. Tarburton’s work didn’t go unnoticed, he received the Tim Shaw Thrive Award, which is presented to the student-athlete who has overcome adversities and been an inspiration to his fellow teammates.
“I can’t focus on the injury aspect of the game,” Tarburton said during a Zoom call before this spring's Blue-White Game. "That's part of the game. I can do everything I can to prevent it. As far as doing prehab, rebah, and knowing my body. If I'm sore, go into the training room [and] get that treatment. It all boils down to how your body feels and what you need to do to perform at the highest level."
Bowl games are sometimes more of a preview for the next season than anything else. In Penn State’s 24-10 loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day, Tarburton had a career-high eight tackles and one of the team’s five sacks. He is looking to build on that game.
“I feel I’m pretty established in the run game,” said Tarburton, who had a pair of tackles for loss against the Razorbacks, “but continuing to work different moves and different techniques in the passing game. I think spring is the best time to hone in techniques but also work on different things. From that aspect, I'm trying to improve."
Tarburton said he’s been working with defensive line coach John Scott Jr. and former Nittany Lion Deion Barnes, the Philadelphia native is a graduate assistant on the staff.
“The biggest thing is working hands,” he said. “It’s all about being able to see the hands, hit the hands, and continually [repeating] that. Making it a habit more than anything.”
Among other things, by winning the Thrive Award, teammates look up to Tarburton, he hopes to be more of a vocal leader this season.
“I try to be the best teammate I can be each day and I feel like I’ve done that,” said the redshirt senior. “I think I lead more by example. I want to speak as well, show through play, lead by play but also speak up when need be.”
Former Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz has joined the staff, replacing Pry. Tarburton is looking forward to playing for Diaz, who briefly was the Temple head coach.
“I love his style of defense,” said Tarburton, who had three tackles in the Blue-White Game. “I think it’s aggressive, it lets us play free and it’s a lot of fun.”
The Nittany Lions kick off the season on September 1 at Purdue. *
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