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Penn State football: Lamont Wade primed for breakout 2019 season after Citrus Bowl

Fifth-year senior Nick Scott found himself talking about the future on Friday morning. A future without him. A future that might be in the hands of Lamont Wade.

The Citrus Bowl is Scott’s farewell. Penn State’s defensive captain started 12 games at safety in 2018, picking off three passes and commanding the back end of Brent Pry’s unit. Scott’s leadership will be missed by his teammates and coaches alike.

But if Nittany Lion fans haven’t already, they will find themselves chatting about what’s to come when the clock hits zero at Camping World Stadium. Whether it’s in the concourse, at the airport terminal or on their couches, they’ll run through Penn State’s roster and see what spots need to be filled in 2019. Tommy Stevens or Sean Clifford will take over for Trace McSorley. Ricky Slade will succeed Miles Sanders if he leaves for the NFL. The Nittany Lions are stacked at wideout and defensive end should Juwan Johnson or Shareef Miller move on.

But Scott’s free safety spot is up for grabs. Unless Wade — Penn State’s second-highest ranked defensive recruit in the last decade — has something to say about it.

“He’s got a tremendous opportunity this winter and spring,” Pry, Penn State’s defensive coordinator, said Friday. “I know he wants to be like all these guys. They want to be in that lineup and have their name go across the Jumbotron.”

Added cornerbacks coach Terry Smith: “Obviously with the departure of Nick Scott, we’re looking for Lamont to step up.”

Wade — the No. 11 overall prospect in the 2017 class, per — was seen as the pivotal signing of the James Franklin era before Micah Parsons picked Penn State last year. The No. 1 cornerback prospect in his cycle, Wade had offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Oklahoma and more heavy hitters. And yet, he chose the Nittany Lions, becoming the program’s highest-ranked defensive signee since Maurice Evans in 2006.

But fans who bought into the recruiting buzz have been left either disappointed or understanding of Wade’s situation. The 5-foot-9, 194-pounder made an impact on special teams as a true freshman before switching from cornerback to safety this offseason. The corner room was loaded with Amani Oruwariye, John Reid, Tariq Castro-Fields, Donovan Johnson and Zech McPhearson, while the Nittany Lions had a need at safety with Marcus Allen and Troy Apke leaving after 2017.

Wade never started at his new position in 2018. However, he slowly grew into the role, contributing in subpackages and spelling Scott, all the while starring as the Nittany Lions’ gunner on punt coverage.

It may not be what the former blue-chip recruit expected out of his first two years in Happy Valley. But Wade’s teammates believe he handled everything like a veteran.

“It’s very competitive to get in that lineup,” Scott said Friday. “Just his maturity and ability to accept his role, not be satisfied with it but accept it, and contribute on special teams and have a huge role there, and still be attentive in meetings and contribute as a player in the safety room has been really impressive. I think that’s going to bode well. Guys who are good to the game, the game’s good to them. So he’ll have a strong career here and he’s got a bright future for sure.”

Reid seconded Scott. Speaking after Thursday’s practice, Reid called Wade “a sponge,” complimented his open-field tackling on special teams and said he “has the trust of all the players.” That would extend to 2019 if Wade ends up starting, too, Reid added.

Of course, Wade won’t be handed the job. Incoming JUCO star Jaquan Brisker will be in the mix, Smith said during the early signing period. Although unlikely, Jonathan Sutherland, more of a downhill banger, could move from strong safety. And Ayron Monroe is still on the roster, too.

But after two years of contributing and a season of seasoning at safety, the former top-tier prospect is more polished while still possessing the natural ability that got him recruited in the first place.

Wade seems like a perfect fit alongside Garrett Taylor in 2019. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case in the months following Tuesday’s Citrus Bowl.

“Lamont’s an explosive player. He’s a physical player. His improvement and his experience he’s gained on special teams has really helped him,” Pry said. “I’m excited to see what happens this spring.”

Added Reid: “He’s definitely ready.”

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