Alex Kenney is Penn State’s starting kick returner, but he’s not doing much returning these days.
College kickoffs are taken from the 35-yard line this season, as part of a few rule changes made by the NCAA. The short field has taken a lot of the excitement out of kickoffs, as most result in a touchback.
“We can’t really do anything about the rule change,” Kenney said. “But it’s taking a big play opportunity out of each game.
“Both me and Jesse Della Valle are eager to return kicks [and punts], and unfortunately a lot of kicks have been going into the back of the endzone.”
When officials flagged Illinois safety Earnest Thomas for a personal foul against Penn State tight end Matt Lehman last Saturday, they enforced the 15-yards on the kickoff. Penn State’s kick coverage unit lined up at midfield. Sam Ficken could probably have banged that kick into the Fighting Illini student section. Instead, he popped it up so the Nittany Lions could attain better field position
Kenney, who is looking to run some indoor track after the football season is over, just wants to show off his speed. He’s only had one return this season for 20 yards.
When he’s not on special teams, Kenney lines up as the slot receiver on offense. The departure of Shawney Kersey a few weeks ago, along with some inevitable double coverage on wideout Allen Robinson conference slate, Kenney said he’s poised to step up.
“I’m just trying to make as many plays as possible and catch the ball when it’s thrown my way,” Kenney said.
“It’s exciting to know that one week you can be getting more opportunities than the next.”
Kenney added that he was frustrated that those opportunities were limited in the offseason after he injured his knee in spring practice.
“It set me back a lot. I felt that I had the opportunity to show the coaches a lot of things I could do on the field,” Kenney said. “Those opportunities were cut short when I got injured. I just stay positive and hope for the best.”
In the meantime, guys like Robinson and Kyle Carter established themselves as two of quarterback Matt McGloin’s favorite targets. Kenney has 12 catches — the third most on the team — this season for 129 yards.
“He’s got a lot of speed,” said Della Valle, a redshirt sophomore punt returner. “He’s got a lot of quickness. He’s a tough guy to take down in the open field.”