UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Now that Dan Connor has moved on to the NFL and Sean Lee is out for the season, Penn State is searching for a new leader among its linebackers.
Tyrell Sales, a fifth-year senior from Butler High School, could be the player to fill that huge void, but coach Joe Paterno still is looking for proof of that.
"The kid who really has come to the front who's got a lot of ability, but I don't know whether he realizes it, is Sales," Paterno said.
Sales, the lone senior linebacker on the Nittany Lions' roster, doesn't mind the added pressure.
"I feel confident that I can be that guy who steps in there and gets the job done," he said.
Lee, who is serving as an honorary captain and part-time coach while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, doesn't have any doubt that Sales will embrace his new leadership role.
"Tyrell Sales has been around for a while, and he's a guy I think is going to step up," Lee said.
Sales realizes how much the Lions will miss Lee.
"Obviously, it's been a big loss for us and it's something we've had to deal with," Sales said. "But it's not just like it just happened. We've known for a couple of months now we wouldn't have Sean and we've been able to prepare."
Sales and Lee were the starting outside linebackers a year ago, with Connor in the middle. This season, Sales again is on the outside, along with Bani Gbadyu, a redshirt sophomore. Josh Hull, a redshirt junior and former walk-on, has taken over for the injured Lee in the middle.
"Tyrell's a great asset for our defense right now," Hull said. "If I make a mistake, I turn to him to make a big play. It's kind of nice having him to take care of me right now. He's been around a while. He has a lot to offer."
Sales, 6 feet 2 and 238 pounds, made 12 starts last season and finished sixth on the team with 50 tackles. He had three sacks, forced a fumble, recovered one and was a key contributor on special teams.
A two-time All-Big Ten academic team selection, he earned his degree in marketing in the spring and is working toward another in media studies.
"I think Ty's getting better for us all the time," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "I think he's a guy that's going to be a leader for us. Ty's very comfortable with what he's doing. He had a heck of a spring and he's carried that over into the fall.
"He's the veteran of the linebackers, and we expect him to play good football for us."
Sales has faced some adversity off the field.
In late March, he was charged with defiant trespass and disorderly conduct in connection with an incident outside Margarita Mama's in Station Square. And in April 2007, he was charged with criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and harassment during an off-campus fight involving several football players.
All charges against Sales were eventually dismissed.
"It's one of those things where you live and you learn," he said. "All of that stuff is behind me now."
Sales is looking to make headlines with his play on the field.
"I just want to go out there and play ball," he said. "Being a returning starter definitely helps. I want to do the things that can help the team win. Basically, that's all I care about. We feel [that] for us to have a successful season we have to win a Big Ten championship.
"That's our mind-set now, our focus."
Ron Musselman can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org .