Penn State turning to Lucas as a leader

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Lion's Den drill, introduced by Penn State coach James Franklin this spring, is tailored for someone like Jordan Lucas. It is intense and loud and personal.

In the drill, three offensive linemen and three defensive linemen attack each other while an offensive player attempts to move the ball past one defensive player, like a linebacker or a cornerback like Lucas. Players yell and players hit.

It is football at its most primal.

In the Lion's Den, the winner is going to be aggressive and charismatic, and Lucas is often that guy.

"I believe I have a lot of personality," Lucas said.

Lucas begins what will be his second season of true playing time in a position not generally befitting someone of his experience. Because of Penn State's lack of veterans and his maturity, he's being counted on not only as a significant contributor to the defense, but also as a leader.

"He had a great year last year and it's showed and rubbed off, and I think a lot of the defensive backs look up to him," said linebacker Mike Hull.

Lucas came to Penn State more advanced than the average freshman.

He had spent a postgraduate year at Worcester Academy (Mass.) after his senior year at New Rochelle High School. There, he honed his defensive back skills and committed to former coach Bill O'Brien in January 2012, shortly after O'Brien got the job.

O'Brien's assistant, John Butler, sensed Lucas could succeed right away because of his prep school background and told him that before Lucas had reached campus.

"He would always tell me, 'You're not a young guy coming in here; you're a veteran,' " Lucas said.

"Of course, what freshman comes in here and automatically thinks like that? That just doesn't happen."

Lucas played sparingly as a freshman, often on special teams. He won the defense's most-improved player award during spring practice last year and proved how much he had in the fall, finishing third on the team in tackles with 55 and first in interceptions with three.

Lucas said Franklin's defensive system will give him even more freedom this year, allowing him to roam from his cornerback position with "more responsibility."

In addition to his on-field performance last year, Lucas became known for his candor with his teammates and the media.

After the hardest losses, against Ohio State for instance, he was prepared to discuss the team's problems and how they sought to fix them.

But Lucas didn't consider himself a leader. This offseason he said he is "taking the leader role."

Two years ago, Penn State's leaders were obvious. Linebacker Michael Mauti and fullback Mike Zordich set expectations and made sure their teammates knew to follow them.

Last year, Penn State had key seniors like linebacker Glenn Carson and offensive guard John Urschel. As accomplished as they were, they weren't leaders of the same variety as Mauti and Zordich, who guided Penn State through their fiery words every bit as much as their actions.

Lucas said from a young age he was taught that way. He expects leaders to be loud, and he expects to be a leader this season.

"Some guys just don't get the lead by example thing," Lucas said. "It takes a voice sometimes."

Mark Dent:, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05

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