Drake's return boosts Penn State's offense

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Curtis Drake already has proven to be a versatile player. Now, he's hoping to erase any questions about his durability as he enters his redshirt sophomore season at Penn State.

Drake was projected to be the starting slot receiver in 2010 after displaying his explosiveness as a freshman, but he was slowed early last summer by a stress fracture in his left foot.

Then, just after preseason practice began in August, he sustained a fractured left tibia in a non-contact drill and had season-ending surgery.

"Not being on the field [was] just killing me," Drake said. "It's been a long time. Too long. The last time I was on the field in full pads [until Wednesday] was the fifth practice last year.

"I feel good. I'm 100 percent. I'm ready to go. I'm hoping to stay healthy and have a good year."

Drake, 5 feet 11 and 173 pounds, is on target to win a starting job again this spring.

The speedster is one of the Nittany Lions' most dangerous players in the open field. He joins a talented receiving corps that includes Derek Moye, a fifth-year senior from Rochester High School. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten Conference pick last season after leading the team in catches (53), yards (885) and touchdowns (eight).

Other key returning wideouts include juniors Justin Brown (33 catches, 452 yards, one touchdown) and Devon Smith (27, 363, one touchdown), who will be Drake's main competition for the slot position.

"I think we're going to have a good receiving corps," Drake said. "Me, I just hope that I can come out and play ball and not make mistakes."

With Drake at quarterback, West Catholic High School in Philadelphia reached the PIAA Class AA state championship game in 2008. He was named the Class AA player of the year and was an all-state selection.

Drake also was named MVP of the Pennsylvania team in the 2009 Big 33 Football Classic -- a 38-31 loss to Ohio.

He was one of eight freshmen to play for Penn State in 2009. His numbers weren't great -- eight receptions for 98 yards, four carries for 24 yards. He also threw a touchdown pass.

The coaching staff liked his skills, and he was expected to see an expanded role in the offense a year ago while providing the Lions with the option of running the Wildcat formation or trick plays.

In August, coach Joe Paterno called Drake's injury "a big loss." It forced Penn State to tinker with its offense.

"Drake's one of the better football players we have," Paterno said at the time. "He's very versatile. He can do a lot of things. He can throw the ball. He's really a good runner, a good receiver."

Drake, cited last summer for his involvement in a fight with troubled freshman basketball player Taran Buie, isn't not sure which quarterback will be throwing him passes this fall.

He worked out with Rob Bolden over the winter, but Bolden said last week he will not decide on his future until after spring drills, which conclude with the Blue-White Game April 16 at Beaver Stadium.

In early January, Bolden sought a release from his scholarship in order to transfer, but Paterno denied his request.

"We understand where he's coming from," Drake said. "Everybody that comes here, they want to play, they want to show what they got. Hopefully, he will stay."

Bolden, who started eight games last season, is competing for the job this spring with former walk-on Matt McGloin, who started five of the final six games, as the Lions finished a disappointing 7-6.

Redshirt freshman Paul Jones, from Sto-Rox High School, also could press for playing time. Junior Kevin Newsome, the former backup who continues to slide down the depth chart, also is on the roster.

"Once again, we'll have to go through another session of spring ball and let the quarterbacks compete," Drake said. "Nobody in the program knows what's going to happen. It's up in the air.

"Whatever quarterback puts us in the best situation to win, that's who we want to be out there. We got a lot of time until the season starts."


Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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