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Penn State’s Derrick Tangelo makes quick impact

Derrick Tangelo has dreamed about playing football for Penn State since he was in eighth grade.

So when Tangelo, a graduate transfer from Duke, jogged out of the tunnel with his teammates last Saturday at Beaver Stadium for the White Out game against Auburn, he couldn’t believe it was real.

“I’m not going to lie,” he said Wednesday. “We ran out and I was about to pass out. I was thinking, ‘Dang, I‘m really here.’ It really felt like I was in a movie. …It was just a surreal moment for me. I’ll never forget it.”

Tangelo already has made an impact on the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions (3-0), who take on Villanova (3-0) Saturday at noon in State College (TV-BTN, WEEU-AM/830).

He has emerged as a starter at defensive tackle next to PJ Mustipher following the undisclosed injury of projected starter Hakeem Beamon.

Against Auburn, the 6-2, 308-pound Tangelo recovered a fumble on the first play of the second half, which set up a touchdown. In the fourth quarter, he caught running back Jarquez Hunter from behind at the Penn State 10-yard line, which prevented a touchdown in the Lions’ 28-20 win.

Penn State coach James Franklin called it “a game-saving tackle” and “a huge play.”

“Those are the types of plays we make as a defense in practice all the time,” Tangelo said. “Our coaches really preach running to the ball. They really preach playing with effort.

“I defeated the cut block and I noticed that the running back bounced outside. So I did what I was taught and chased the ball down. I saw him hurdle Joey (cornerback Joey Porter Jr.) and then I was like, ‘All right. I have to get on my horse.’ ”

Tangelo thought the same thing after he enrolled at Penn State in January. He struggled to adjust to the Lions’ conditioning program and testing.

“It took me a while just to learn the philosophies and really understand how to succeed here from a conditioning standpoint,” he said. “I went to speed training here. At Duke, that’s only what the DBs did. That’s what the linebackers would do.

“Just getting used to doing more and trying more activities I wasn’t used to helped me. Our weight program is very good. It makes you uncomfortable, but it makes you learn through your discomfort.”

Tangelo grew up in Gaithersburg, Md., and began playing football in eighth grade. He was anointed with a nickname after his first game, which has stuck.

“When I made my first play, I don’t know why but for some reason I beat my chest,” he said. “They were like, ‘OK, King of the Congo.’ We kind of ran with that. My coaches just started calling me ‘Congo.’

“From eighth grade to even today, I’m introduced as ‘Congo.’ It’s to a point where my parents even call me ‘Congo.’ That’s funny.”

Tangelo played at the Bullis School, which produced such former Penn State players as linebacker Cam Brown and tight end Jonathan Holland.

“Penn State was always a dream of mine,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to see two of my older teammates go to Penn State. I always looked up to them. They always gave me advice. I had a lot of respect for them. That’s what drew me to the program.”

Franklin and the Lions, however, didn’t recruit Tangelo. He was pursued by several Atlantic Coast Conference schools and eventually chose Duke. He started for most of three seasons there and last year had 40 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks, one fumble recovery and a team-leading three forced fumbles.

He graduated from Duke with a degree in sociology and a minor in cultural anthropology.

“I felt like leaving Duke would give me more exposure,” he said. “I just felt like I needed a fresh start. I had a great time at Duke and I accomplished a lot of things, but I felt like there was more for me to do.”

After Tangelo put his name in the NCAA transfer portal and saw that Penn State was interested in him, that made his decision easier.

“It’s kind of surreal (being at Penn State),” he said. “I’m always talking about it with my teammates. Sometimes I don’t even believe it. Sometimes I look at the Nittany Lion and I’ll be like, ‘Dang, I’m really here.’

“Sometimes I’ll walk on campus, like when I visited when I was in high school, and I’ll be like, ‘I’m really going to class at Penn State.’ ”

Franklin said Tangelo has been a wonderful presence inside Lasch Building.

“He’s been an unbelievable fit in our locker room,” Franklin said. “He’s got a bunch of personality. He interacts with the players and the coaches really well.

“I see him continuing to grow physically and mentally each week, and we need him to. I thought last week he played his best football.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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