As a roller-coaster whizzed by and the sun peeked out from behind Sunday morning clouds, Penn State wideout KJ Hamler offered a wide grin. Penn State’s breakout redshirt freshman, eager to test out Fun Spot America’s “White Lightning” ‘coaster, reminisced on a time it seemed like he himself hit 48 miles per hour.
“O-State,” Hamler said, nodding his head when asked what his favorite play of 2018 was. “The slant. … It was all just instinct.”
Hamler, of course, is referring to his 93-yard touchdown against Ohio State — one that left the entire Buckeye defense catching its breath. The 5-foot-9 slot receiver, aptly nicknamed “The Human Joystick,” secured a three-yard pass from Trace McSorley and took it the distance, electrifying Beaver Stadium and putting Penn State ahead 13-0.
The Nittany Lions couldn’t hold that lead, falling to Ohio State 27-26 on Sept. 29. Still, Hamler showed out then and, really, has done so all year.
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After redshirting at Penn State last year due to injury, Hamler finally got a chance to prove himself, becoming the star of spring camp. Hamler made good on the hype, too, leading the Nittany Lions in receptions (41) and receiving yards (701) this season. The speedster is also tied with Utah State’s Savon Scarver for the most kickoff returns of 50 yards or more (4) in college football.
“I learned that the game is way faster than high school,” Hamler said. “I really had to mature, as a player, as a person. Just step up and take on a big role.”
As for 2019, Hamler said he wants to add five, maybe 10, pounds of muscle. But he’s not getting too far ahead of himself. Not yet. Hamler is focused on Tuesday’s Citrus Bowl.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Hamler said. “One more game.”
Nittany Lions’ schedule
Hamler and the Nittany Lions were at Fun Spot America for VRBO’s Day For Kids — a morning where Penn State and Kentucky players paired up with kids from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Miles Sanders rode bumper cars, while Trace McSorley’s go-kart stalled out as teammates drove by.
It was a lighthearted excursion for the Nittany Lions, one that the players and coaching staff both enjoyed.
“It’s not about us and Kentucky right now. It’s about us having an influence on these young kids’ lives and giving them a chance to have a really fun day,” Penn State special teams coordinator Phil Galiano said. “That’s important for our guys to see the impact they have.”
Sunday was the second time in three days that the Nittany Lions were at an amusement park; Penn State players spent a few hours at Universal Studios on Friday night. They also went bowling on Saturday. After a normal Sunday practice, Penn State will participate in a Monday walk-through at Camping World Stadium before the Citrus Bowl.
Penn State and Kentucky kick off at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. The game will be televised on ABC.