Kline adapting to position change with Nittany Lions

By on October 10, 2019

Grayson Kline makes a catch during warmups of the Blue & White game at Beaver Stadium in State College. (Photo by Kirk Neidermyer)

At the start of last week, Grayson Kline didn’t have plans to go to the Warwick-Manheim Twp. showdown of State-ranked teams Friday night.

A 2018 Warwick grad, the redshirt freshman on the Penn State University football team figured on staying put in State College on the eve of the Nittany Lions’ Homecoming game against Purdue.

Head coach James Franklin, however, was going.

His itinerary was already drawn up for a visit to Lititz, presumably to check out Warrior 6-foot-8, 272-pound junior lineman Nolan Rucci and Blue Streak sophomore receiver Anthony Ivey, both of whom have received offers from Penn State.

And Franklin was making it tough for Kline to say no.

“Coach Franklin was telling me all week about the game,” Kline laughed, “and asking, ‘Are you going to see Warwick?’ I’d say no, I’m not going, and he just kept at it (until I said), ‘Alright, fine, I’ll go.’”

It’s not the first time in the past several months that Kline has altered plans.

At the start of spring practices, he was called into the Nittany Lions coaches’ offices.

The topic of conversation was a position change. Kline went to Penn State as a preferred walk-on at QB, having thrown for 1,134 yards and 10 TDs in just four games as a senior at Warwick before a season-ending injury. But Franklin and his offensive coaches had another idea in mind.

“They said it’s my decision, but we’d really like you to go to tight end,” Kline recalled.

Actually, Lions’ offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne and Kline had talked about it once or twice earlier. So he wasn’t shocked when the time came.

“When I was getting recruited, they asked me, ‘What do you think about the hand in the dirt?’ I said I love those guys,” Kline quipped. “(Rahne) said, ‘No, no, no, you putting your hand in the dirt.’ I love it. It’s a lot of fun. It’s another aspect of the game that I didn’t get to appreciate as much until I got to step in there.”

After a whirlwind of meetings in the offices of Rahne, tight ends coach Tyler Bowen, and Franklin, Kline was off to see strength coach Dwight Galt.

Working with Galt has clearly paid off, with Kline having added 40 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame since his days with the Warriors.

“I was 220 when I graduated and now I’m anywhere from 255 to 260,” he said.

Running with the Lions’ scout team, Kline’s biggest adjustment was just getting used to hitting people. He admitted that the transition was “rough” at first, going up against the likes of D-ends Yetur Gross-Matos, Jayson Oweh, and Shaka Toney, but Kline is quickly catching on.

“I mean, I’m going up against the best defensive line in the country, so you’ve got to adapt quick or you’re on your back every play,” Kline said. “I was competing with myself, I was competing with the other tight end who was there. I’m learning from Pat Freiermuth, Nick Bowers, guys like that who are veterans and know the ropes. They’ve made it fun.”

It wasn’t just getting stronger and learning blocking techniques that came with the switch. Kline has been on the Jugs machine every day after practice, hauling in hundreds of passes.

“Justin Shorter’s feeding me footballs through that machine and I’m getting 50 catches every day,” he said. “I couldn’t catch to save my life when I first started. Every catch I had was six yards behind center. Now I’m running routes, I’m having to be quick on my feet, getting hit when I catch the ball. It’s different.”

Shorter, a redshirt freshman receiver, is also one of Kline’s roommates. So is sophomore running back Ricky Slade and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Collin De Boef.

Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons, a Butkus Award and Bednarik Award Preseason watch list selection, is a bowling and smack-talk cohort.

“When I was at Warwick, I’d be sitting in a study hall watching highlights and it was like, ‘Wow, these guys are going to Penn State,’ and they’re my best friends,” Kline said. “It’s just cool to get to know people.”

Coming off its 35-7 win over the Boilermakers to improve to 5-0, Penn State now turns its attention to Iowa, a game to be shown this Saturday on ABC at 7:30 p.m. Four tight ends are in the Lions’ traveling party, which means Bowers, Freiermuth, Zack Kuntz, and Brenton Strange will be on the flight to Iowa City, Iowa.

Kline and redshirt sophomore Trevor Baker, meanwhile, will just keep their nose to the grindstone on the scout team, learning the role and working their way into the lineup.

“Hopefully next year, I’ll get some special teams opportunities and make the most of it,” Kline said. “It’s just working hard and being ready for the opportunity whenever it may present itself. It could be next year, it could be a fifth year. But who knows? Crazy things have happened and you’ve just got to always be prepared.”

Special teams isn’t out of the question this fall, but it wouldn’t be a best-case scenario for the Lions.

“For the team’s sake, hopefully not because that means some people go down,” Kline said. “But I could fill in and I think they’re starting to recognize that. If need be, they have me as a big body. I’m committed, I put on a lot of weight, I go to the weight room &tstr; I had 340 pounds on my back for 16 reps today. So I’ll do what they want me to do and I think they’re starting to know that. It’s awesome forming a bond with people.”

Franklin included.

As the Lions’ head coach walked onto Joseph Grosh Field last Friday, he spotted Kline and gave him a big hug.

“(Family) is kinda what Franklin preaches all the time,” Kline said. “On his way here in the helicopter, he’s texting me, ‘Can’t way to see you,’ and I just saw that guy six hours ago. He comes out here, he hugs my family, asks how they’re doing. So he really establishes that kind of relationship, that kind of brotherhood and family.”

By the time Kline finally headed out of the gates at Grosh Field, the time was pushing 11 o’clock. There was still a two-hour ride ahead of him back to State College and an 8 a.m. breakfast with the team on Saturday.

“(Coach Franklin)’s probably back already,” Kline smiled. “I’ve got a two-hour ride. But it was worth it. It’s always nice to be back (in Lititz). Every time I come back, everybody says hello, everybody’s shaking my hand. It’s such a cool community and two hours is nothing to get what you get when you’re here.”

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