Redshirt junior Sukay a leader in the secondary
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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State free safety Nick Sukay will be looking to shoulder more responsibilities in the secondary when spring drills open Friday.
That's because his sidekick, strong safety Drew Astorino, is sitting out after having left shoulder surgery in January.
"With Drew out this spring, I'm the oldest guy in the secondary," Sukay said. "I tried to take charge a little in the winter workouts and I will continue to do that in spring ball."
Sukay, 6 feet 1 and 213 pounds, will be a redshirt junior this fall. He is one of three starters returning in the secondary, joining Astorino and cornerback D'Anton Lynn. Stephon Morris, the team's nickel back, also returns.
- What: Annual Blue-White Game to end spring drills.
- When: 2 p.m. April 24.
- Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
- TV: ESPN2.
Astorino, a redshirt junior, is the top returning tackler (62 stops) on a defense that returns five starters overall. Sukay ranks second (41).
Sukay, a graduate of Greensburg Central Catholic High School, had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries last season. He contributed a team-high 13 passes defended and 11 breakups in his first year as a starter after two injury-filled seasons.
He had a career-high nine tackles and his first career interception in the 21-10 home loss to Iowa and seven stops a week later in a 35-17 road victory at Illinois.
"Last year was definitely a great learning experience, but I wasn't happy with it," Sukay said. "I'd grade it like maybe a C. I was average, but not all that good.
"I am just trying to get better with my breaks and everything. And I need to come down with interceptions instead of dropping passes."
Sukay will wear jersey No. 1 this spring. It will be his fourth number since September, when he wore 10, 9 and 18 in a three-week span.
"No. 1 is the jersey I've wanted all along," he said. "I plan to hang onto this number."
Astorino brushed off concerns about his bothersome shoulder last season. It turns out the situation was worse than he or the coaches revealed.
"My shoulder got progressively worse as the year went on," Astorino said. "It was almost like some games I couldn't feel it -- it wouldn't hurt at all. Other games, it would hurt every time I got hit.
"I wore a cowboy collar on my shoulder pads and a brace on my shoulder, so there were a lot of things that restricted the way I like to play. I was really tentative. It was tough to play through the pain, but that's just what you do."
Even so, Astorino finished fourth on the team in tackles behind linebackers Josh Hull, Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee.
Astorino had two fumble recoveries and an interception in his first season as a starter, and he earned Sukay's admiration.
"We'd be on the field and he'd make a tackle and he'd get up and he'd be in pain and be holding his shoulder," Sukay said. "He would gut it out even though it was tough for him. I have a lot of respect for him doing that."
Lynn, a junior, had 35 tackles in his first year as a starter in 2009. Morris saw action in every game as a true freshman, contributing 30 tackles, an interception and a sack. He also made his first career start at cornerback in the regular-season finale at Michigan State, replacing injured starter A.J. Wallace.
"I think the secondary is going to be one of the strong points of the defense this year," Sukay said.
The secondary, which had four new starters last season, allowed 184.6 yards passing per game and 10 touchdowns through the air.
"I couldn't be more excited about our secondary," Astorino said. "We were young last year and every single person said that we were going to be the reason that Penn State struggled. We took that kind of personal. I feel like we played pretty well.
"Now, we need to improve. We gave up a lot of passes of 15 yards or more. We need to tighten our coverage. Nick, Stephon and D'Anton are really excited about that opportunity this spring. And I'll be back full-go for preseason camp in August and ready to go."
First Published March 25, 2010 12:00 am