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Penn State’s Jesse Luketa declares for NFL draft after Outback Bowl loss

TAMPA, Fla. — Jesse Luketa, who alternated between linebacker and defensive end this season, announced that he had played his final game for Penn State in its 24-10 loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl on Saturday.

Luketa said in postgame interviews that he had not yet decided whether to return to the Nittany Lions for the 2022 season. Less than an hour later, he made his decision public on social media. He had another year of eligibility because of the NCAA waiver regarding the pandemic.

“After speaking with my family, I have decided to declare for the 2022 NFL draft,” he said. “It has been an honor to represent the Blue & White and enter battle in the greatest stadium in the world.

“Beaver Stadium and Nittany Nation, I will miss you!”

Luketa, a team captain, played linebacker in his first three seasons at Penn State (2018-20) before this year when he also played end after a season-ending injury to Adisa Isaac.

He started at middle linebacker Saturday after linebackers Ellis Brooks and Brandon Smith opted out of the game and declared for the NFL draft. He made nine tackles, including one in the backfield, and forced a fumble.

“I’m a huge Jesse Luketa fan,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “I will pound the table for him with every single NFL team, GM and coach. The guy is a football player. He loves football and he’s a great teammate.”

Luketa finished the season tied for sixth on the team with linebacker Curtis Jacobs with 61 tackles.

“That’s just who I am as a person and as a leader,” Luketa said about his willingness to play two positions. “I’ve always been a selfless individual. We had a need and I was able to fill that position after Adisa Issac went down.

“I was able to show my versatility and to better myself.”

Jacobs, a sophomore, said he learned much from Luketa.

“He’s been incredibly important to me,:” Jacobs said. “He’s taken me under his wing and dropped knowledge on me consistently. I wish him the best.”

Vilbert stands out: Penn State redshirt sophomore defensive end Smith Vilbert made the first start of his career a memorable one by tying an Outback Bowl record with three sacks.

The 6-6, 263-pound Vilbert went into the game with four tackles in his career and no sacks. He finished with four tackles.

“I thought I did pretty good,” he said. “Guys have faith in me, I think, because they see the outcomes in practice. I just did my best.”

Vilbert started in place of Luketa, who moved to linebacker Saturday and who taught him how to break down film. Vilbert dropped K.J. Jefferson three times for 17 yards in losses.

“I think he was just so locked in,” defensive end Nick Tarburton said. “He knew it was his opportunity this week and he took to it, did everything he could. I’m just so happy for him. He played awesome.”

Brown delivers again: Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown intercepted two passes and had six tackles after missing practice in the week leading up to Saturday’s game.

“He didn’t practice all week long,” Franklin said. “He literally did not get cleared until after practice Friday. He is a football player. He loves to play the game.”

Brown finished the season with a team-high six interceptions.

New starters: Eight Penn State players made their first starts of the season or started at new positions against Arkansas because of opt-outs or injuries.

On offense, Cam Sullivan-Brown started at wide receiver and Olu Fashanu at left tackle.

On defense, end Smith Vilbert, tackle Dvon Ellies and cornerback Kalen King made the first starts of their careers. Linebacker Curtis Jacobs made his first start on the weak side, and Jonathan Sutherland made his first career start at linebacker.

In addition, Keaton Ellis started at safety for the first time in his career.

“I couldn’t be happier with the guys that played in this game,” Tarburton said. “Obviously I love all those guys that opted out. They’re my brothers for life, too. But the guys that we had today, I couldn’t be more thankful for. It was a battle and I’d do it 10 times over.”


Source: Berkshire mont

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