Pat Freiermuth, Nebraska football

Pat Freiermuth’s Penn State career may be over.

The junior tight end will miss the remainder of the season as he is set to have surgery next week to address an injury sustained against Ohio State, James Franklin announced after Saturday’s 41-21 loss to Iowa.

Freiermuth opted to return to the Nittany Lions this season despite being eligible for the NFL draft and widely considered as one of the top tight ends available.

“He’s a competitor, he’s a leader, and you know he’s going to bounce back,” senior defensive end Shaka Toney said. “He hasn’t stopped coming to the building, he hasn’t stopped talking, he doesn’t just sit around and sulk because a lot of guys do that — he got all the tight ends ready this week the best way he could from a mental standpoint.”

A preseason First Team All-American, Freiermuth tied former tight end Mike Gesicki’s program record of 15 career touchdowns by a tight end against Nebraska last week.

Freiermuth burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2018, when he recorded eight touchdowns, the most by a Penn State true freshman since Deon Butler in 2005.

“Watching Pat [Freiermuth] come in here as a young guy, you don’t see too many 6-foot-6, 250 pound freshmen tight ends,” Toney said. “He’s worked every day, he’s one of my ultimate teammates.”

The two-time captain had become one of quarterback Sean Clifford’s favorite targets over the past season and a half.

Despite playing in only four out of five games in 2020, Freiermuth is second on the team in total receptions with 23 and receiving yards with 310.

“We’re going to miss Pat [Freiermuth] significantly, he’s honestly in my opinion the best tight end in the country,” junior wide receiver Jahan Dotson said. “It hurts not having him out there but he’s one of those guys who never gets down about it… he’s looking to take on that leadership role.”

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It’s another blow to an already undermanned Nittany Lions team that has now seen three starting running backs, a starting cornerback and a handful of other players miss time with injuries.

Now, the Nittany Lions are faced with replacing a key playmaker in an already turbulent passing game.

Redshirt freshman Brenton Strange started in place of Freiermuth against Iowa, and the new No. 1 tight end has been used in an increased role this season compared to last.

“I found out [Freiermuth was out for the season] last Sunday,” Strange said. “Pat [Freiermuth] has been a big part of me just growing as a player and a person, just watching how he works every day and how he comes in and handles his business.”

Penn State used Strange in its 12-personnel sets when Freiermuth was still available, and the tight end has proven he can be effective as both a pass-catcher and a run blocker in his time as the No. 2 option this season.

“Coming in and being the guy now, it’s something that I’ve been working for,” Strange said. “Ever since I got here this is what I’ve been working to do.”

Strange caught his first career touchdown pass against Iowa on Sean Clifford’s first play of the game after coming in for starting quarterback Will Levis.

“I chipped on the D-end and I saw open grass,” Strange said. “I just tried to get open, got open and scored — I tried to make the most of it.”

He finished the game as Penn State’s third-leading receiver with three catches for 38 yards.

Freshmen tight ends Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren are now second and third on the tight end depth chart after not only Freiermuth’s injury, but redshirt freshman tight end Zack Kuntz also missed the game against Iowa due to injury.

Johnson and Warren both saw the field the most they had in their young careers, and Johnson caught his first two passes as a Nittany Lion.

“I definitely don’t think that’s something I could have done last year as a true freshman,” Strange said.

Johnson is a former 4-star recruit out of Canada, while Warren was a 3-star recruit, according to 247Sports, from Virginia.

Moving forward, the tight end group is set on coming together and battling through this adversity.

Freiermuth has been engaged despite his injury and Strange is stepping up as a leader.

The position group wants to have the biggest impact it can on the team as a whole as Penn State looks to avoid an 0-6 start to the season.

“Me, Theo [Johnson] and Tyler [Warren], with Pat [Freiermuth] too, we’re going to all watch film together,” Strange said. “[The tight ends] are going to try to be the reason why we win next week.”

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Evan Patrick is a football and basketball reporter at The Daily Collegian. He is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism with minors in business and labor employment relations.