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Young players stepping in amid injuries, illness to gain valuable experience for Penn State football

Penn State Football vs Rutgers Meiga Touchdown

Wide receiver Malick Meiga (80) scores the third touchdown for Penn State during Penn State football's game against Rutgers on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021 in University Park, Pa. Penn State defeated Rutgers 28-0. 

Penn State has already begun to put an emphasis on playing younger players as the 2021 season comes to a close.

Whether it was due to injuries or the mysterious illness traveling through Penn State’s locker room, 63 different Nittany Lions got the chance to see the playing field in their 28-0 home victory over Rutgers on Saturday.

Having been with the program for five seasons, Penn State’s Jonathan Sutherland detailed the experience of “passing the torch” to the younger guys in the locker room.

“You want to get your young guys experience,” Sutherland said. “Allow them to contribute because, ultimately, they’re going to be playing one day.”

Of the young guys who contributed to Saturday’s win, two of them — Christian Veilleux and Malick Meiga — are both natives of Canada, Sutherland’s home country.

Against the Scarlet Knights, Veilleux threw his first-career touchdown passes, while the wideout Meiga caught his first score.

“To see them get that experience and be out there on the field is a great thing,” Sutherland said.

For Meiga, it seems he’s already established the same mindset many Nittany Lions have taken through teammates’ injuries.

“We have a next-man-up type of mentality,” Meiga said. “If somebody goes down, somebody else will get up and execute at the same level.”

While it may seem ironic, Penn State’s young players looked like they executed at an even higher level than many of the experienced veterans, although this may have been due to illness.

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What stands out most of all from Saturday’s action was the disastrous first-quarter performance from Sean Clifford followed by the dominant showing of Veilleux in his first career game.

“We’ve been training together since we were in Canada,” Meiga said. “It was great to see Christian come in and take care of business… It’s just starting, so we hope that many more moments will come in the future.”

While he may just be experiencing the start of his on-field college career, Meiga had to watch other receivers like Parker Washington and KeAndre Lambert-Smith play extended time as freshmen last season.

According to Meiga, though, there was never bad blood when they took the field and he was stuck on the sideline, at times due to injury.

“It feels really good to see my friends go on the field and execute,” Meiga said. “It just shows that [I] can do it too.”

On the defensive side of the ball, a number of young guys have also had to step up following injuries on the defensive line.

Penn State has been without the services of Adisa Isaac all season and also lost PJ Mustipher in mid-October for the remainder of the campaign.

Of those younger players, defensive tackle Coziah Izzard has stepped into a heavy role in the second half of his redshirt freshman season.

“Since I’ve been down, he’s done an incredible job,” Mustipher said. “He’s turned that corner, taking the next step in his development, and it’s starting to translate on the field.”

Moving forward, Penn State’s underclassmen should have a unique brand of experience, but before that, there’s still work to do in the 2021 season.

“I'm so happy for these guys and what they've been able to do,” Mustipher said. “I know they're going to finish up this year strong.”

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