Lamont Wade had been frustrated for some time.
The top-ranked player in Penn State's 2017 recruiting class, Wade enrolled early for his freshman season, and famously drew accolades during spring practice.
From there, he appeared in 12 games at cornerback, totaling 31 tackles, three pass breakups and one forced fumble en route to being named an honorable-mention Big Ten All-Freshman by BTN.com.
However, 2018 was a sophomore season in which he saw limited action in what was a disappointing campaign for Penn State’s defense.
“Coming to Penn State was a humbling experience for me,” Wade said. “I played well in spring ball, and played a lot in my freshman year. I expected to do the same last season, but I took some steps back. That made me realize that I needed to get myself together and get right, mentally and physically.”
It was a difficult year for the Clairton, Pennsylvania, native and one that led him to believe that exploring other collegiate options was a prudent idea.
Wade entered the NCAA transfer portal this past January, to the shock of many of his teammates and coaches.
Thinking he was moving on to better things, the disgruntled defensive back promptly cleaned out his locker, and took some time away from the team to figure things out.
He would change his mind just two weeks later.
“I feel like this is the best opportunity for me to play, especially coming in and getting reps with the first-team guys,” Wade said. “When I was talking to the coaches, they told me that it wasn’t just going to be my spot, it wasn’t just going to be given to me. The fact that I had to earn the starting job was something that I really liked because I feel like it allowed me to showcase my work ethic.”
Wade’s decision to stay came after extended conversations involving his family, and James Franklin.
In speaking to Franklin and the rest of the coaching staff, Wade was given an honest truth: he could earn the starting safety job, but it would require more focus and concentration on his end.
Wade valued the transparency of Franklin and ended up back in Happy Valley after a brief absence, where his teammates and coaches welcomed him back to the team with open arms.
“I don’t know what was going through his mind after last season,” Franklin said. “I think the recruiting process, the early opportunities that he got, the early opportunities that he didn't get, the adversity, maybe some of the pressure that he was putting on himself, the expectations — external expectations. I think all those things happen for a reason.”
The five-star prospect started out as a nickel corner in 2017, and was eventually moved to safety, where he backed up senior Nick Scott in 2018, and was a frequent special team’s contributor.
With the graduation of Scott this spring, Wade seemed to be first in line for that vacant starting role heading into the 2019 season.
While his path took a sizable twist after he entered the transfer portal, Wade completed that journey last Saturday by hitting the field against Idaho as a first-teamer.
“I was a little nervous the night before the game,” Wade said. “Once I stepped on the field those nerves went away and I was focused on playing to the best of my ability. It was a great feeling.”
Sitting behind Scott and Amani Oruwariye, two players on NFL rosters, prompted Wade to assess his game and think differently heading into this season.
Instead of worrying about making game-defining plays, the junior is now focusing on doing the “little things” to improve his overall performance on the field.
Whether it’s stretching before practices, coming in during off-days or studying film from the past week, Wade is intent on repeating a cycle of preparation that has already yielded positive results.
“I feel like I am a completely different player compared to last year,” he said. “I’m in better shape physically, I’m way more mentally prepared each week, I’m the fastest and strongest I’ve ever been and I’m more confident than I’ve ever been playing football.”
After taking some time away from football to clear his head and spend time with his family, the free safety realized how important taking the field on Saturdays meant to him.
“The game of football means so much to me,” Wade said. “It was my first love, I’ve been playing it for as long as I can remember. Whenever I was in a dark place, football was a way for me to rise above that. Now, going out on the field and having a positive impact on the game, that’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”
Since earning more playing time at his natural position, Wade has embraced the challenge of stepping into a leadership role this season.
His overall growth, maturity and development — on and off the field — could not have been achieved without going through the numerous ups and downs that characterized his first two seasons.
Since practice opened up in the spring, Wade has been drawing rave reviews from his head coach, in addition to defensive coordinator Brent Pry.
“Lamont is playing his best football,” Pry said during Penn State’s media day. “I’m really proud of how he’s worked [over the summer] and I see the position becoming a strength this year.”
Wade’s improved performance and attitude on the field is not just due to his newfound level of focus and determination.
Functioning as a part of an elite defense has also led to more success for the first-year starter, as well as the rest of the Nittany Lions secondary.
Against Idaho, Wade had four tackles and was part of a stifling defensive effort.
In his third year as a member of Penn State’s secondary, Wade’s playing with much more confidence and freedom than a season ago, a fact that is not lost on his head coach.
“I think that both the positives and the adversity that you go through in life, they make you who you are, and Lamont is the same way,” Franklin said. “The success that he's having, and the confidence that he's playing with and the confidence that our coaching staff has in him is a byproduct of everything that he's been through over the last three years.”
It has been a long time since Wade has been this happy on the football field.
In fact, the embattled player would say that the happiest he’s ever been playing football was in 2016, his final year of high school.
That is until he ran out of the tunnel last Saturday.
“It felt amazing being out on the field,” Wade said. “I felt like I was playing with swagger and confidence, and it was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time.”