It will be 13 months next week from when Tommy Stevens announced his decision to forego a graduate transfer and remain at Penn State for the 2018 football season. At the time, Stevens could have transferred out of Happy Valley, something many expected, had immediate eligibility, and two years to prove himself as a starting quarterback. Instead, he opted to continue in his role as the Nittany Lions' Swiss army knife, with his eyes on the 2019 starting job.
Just about nothing has gone to plan since that evening.
Stevens missed all of 2018's spring practice due to injury, and arrived at fall camp in a walking boot. He was used sparingly during the season, and it was confirmed after he underwent surgery in December that the then redshirt junior signal caller was dealing with an injury even after his return to the field. The recovery from that procedure ran into this spring, where he was once again limited, and did not play in last weekend's Blue-White Game.
All of this opened the door for Sean Clifford, who has done nothing but impress since his arrival on campus nearly two years ago. With plenty of first team reps, and some garbage time action sprinkled throughout the 2018 season, the native of Cincinnati has crashed through that door. James Franklin not so casually deemed Tommy Stevens QB1 back in February. By the end of Saturday's scrimmage, Penn State's head coach was proclaiming the competition for the starting spot would go into the summer, and presumably fall camp.
In Stevens' father's words, they just could not afford to wait. This is the younger Stevens' last go around at the collegiate level. He has been the consummate team player since arriving in Happy Valley, and quite frankly, there comes a time you have to look out for yourself. This is not running away from competition so much as it is running towards an opportunity, wherever that may be.
On the other end, Franklin and his coaching staff have a responsibility to do what is best for the football program. For a man as loyal as he has proven to be, sometimes to a fault, Franklin certainly must have longed for Stevens to have a chance to show that he is the man. But whether it be injuries, or just the emergence of a talented player like Clifford, that clearly has not happened.
Count me as one that is sorry to see it end like this. The idea of Stevens leading Penn State to great things in 2019, his one shot to do so, was a tantalizing storyline to think about. But with too much uncertainty, and an able player waiting, perhaps this is the best move for all sides. The Nittany Lions can go into summer without questions lingering about the most important spot on the field, and Stevens can find a landing spot that will afford him the chance he deserves.