UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- After a trial run at tight end this spring, Mike Yancich has returned to middle linebacker in preseason camp.
But, unlike a year ago, when he was the top backup to leading tackler Chris Colasanti, Yancich has slipped to No. 3 on the depth chart behind sophomores Glenn Carson and Khairi Fortt.
"Going from defense to offense, or vice versa, is a big transition," said Yancich, a redshirt junior from Trinity High School. "And working your way back up at middle linebacker or any linebacker spot is tough because there is so much talent there.
"It's been rough, but you can't let anything dampen your spirits."
Yancich, 6 feet 2 and 237 pounds, had played in 23 games the past two seasons as a reserve linebacker and special teams player. But when injuries left the tight end position short-handed this spring, the coaching staff decided to move Yancich to tight end.
"I was having a really good spring, I thought, and I sat down with [tight ends] coach [Bill] Kenney, and he said, `You're doing really well and I think you can contribute at tight end,' " Yancich said.
"Halfway through spring, I got tonsillitis. That was like the seventh day of practice and I was out the rest of the spring. It was a wash."
Yancich wasn't sure if he was going to remain on offense or move back to defense until nearly a month before the start of preseason camp.
"I was in contact with coach Kenney and [linebackers] coach [Ron] Vanderlinden this summer and they just said, 'Keep your options open. We're going to put you where we think you can make a contribution this year,' " Yancich said.
"It was about mid-July when I finally found out that I was going back to linebacker. I was pleased. That's the position I really enjoy the most."
Yancich arrived at Penn State with lofty credentials. He was one of three linebackers from Trinity who signed with Division I-A schools.
He was a first-team Class AAA all-state linebacker as a senior and finished with 271 career tackles, 30 sacks and 4 interceptions. As a senior, he made 134 tackles, with 17 sacks and 2 interceptions.
Yancich also gained 2,133 career rushing yards, with 25 touchdowns, as a running back.
In 2008, he redshirted as a freshman then spent the next season playing sparingly while sitting behind linebackers Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman and Josh Hull, all of whom are now playing the NFL.
Yancich had four tackles last season and saw action on 179 plays. He played a season-high 23 snaps against Youngstown State and 19 against Florida in the Outback Bowl.
Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley believes Yancich will find a way to make a contribution this year for the Nittany Lions, most likely on the special teams.
"He's doing well at linebacker," Bradley said. "He's an impressive kid. You really got to like him when you watch him in practice. He goes all-out every play and you want him to do well. He's in great shape, he's tough.
"He's getting better. There's a place for him on this football team depending on how this whole thing pans out with the mix at linebacker."
Although Yancich would prefer more playing time, he said he is happy at Penn State and has no plans to transfer to another school.
"I want to stay here," he said. "This is where I always wanted to play, always wanted to go since high school. I think I've gotten faster and quicker and stronger the past couple years. And I think I have gotten better as a player.
"I am out here playing the game I love. I want to be a contributor, but I'm not going to let anything get me down. I'm going to keep chasing my dream of playing major college football for a great school."
Ron Musselman: firstname.lastname@example.org .