It wasn’t too long ago that Dallas High School grad Ryan Monk was sitting in Beaver Stadium, watching all the action from above. He and his family have attended Penn State football games since he was “4 or 5 years old.”
Now he’ll be in the center of it all.
The redshirt freshman defensive tackle is one of four Wyoming Valley Conference alums on Penn State’s roster this year, joining fellow Back Mountain players in OL Connor McGovern and RB Nick Eury of Lake-Lehman and Berwick long snapper Zach Ladonis.
“Coming in as a fan, I just loved it,” said Monk. “Ever since then, I wanted to play football. I got to high school and (Penn State’s coaches) gave me the opportunity. Couldn’t say no. Couldn’t say no.”
Monk arrived last summer as a walk-on for the defensive line. McGovern graduated from Lake-Lehman a semester early last winter and enrolled at Penn State in January as one of the Nittany Lions’ heralded recruits on the offensive line.
While redshirting in 2015, Monk drew the attention of Lions coach James Franklin on the scout team because of his attitude and effort. At the start of spring practice this year, Franklin made it a point to talk about him without being asked.
“This Monk guy, I’m telling you — his work ethic, his attitude, his demeanor, is unbelievable,” Franklin said. “I’m really, really proud of him.
“I think he’s a great example for our entire team about you get an opportunity, you take it, and you run with it. He’s done great in the weight room. He was a pain to deal with on scout team. He is as driven and as motivated as any guy that I’ve been around.”
The praise provided a nice boost through the spring and into the summer.
“What he said was awesome,” Monk said. “Coach Franklin’s a great guy. He’s given me an unbelievable opportunity.
“For me, it’s just a day-at-a-time thing. If I can get one percent better each and every day, eventually over 365 days, that’s pretty good.”
While Monk tries to work his way into the rotation for this season, McGovern is making his case to be the first true freshman offensive lineman to play for Penn State in eight years.
Two guys who played against each other in the trenches of one of the area’s best rivalries again find themselves staring across the line from each other in practice.
A center at Lake-Lehman, that would seem to be the spot McGovern will end up at long-term for the Lions. But with fifth-year senior Brian Gaia at the position this fall, McGovern was getting some first-team and second-team reps at guard during training camp.
“Connor has helped himself,” offensive line coach Matt Limegrover said. “Physically, he’s ahead of schedule. And then he came here early. So he’s a veteran now, believe it or not, from the standpoint of he knows what to expect. He knows how we’re gonna practice. “
The coaching staff even gave McGovern a shot at tackle during spring practice because of his 6-foot-5, 310-pound frame.
“We tried him at a few different spots, and that was by design to get an idea of where he fit — if he was a guy that was going to have the ability to help us early, what could he do for us,” Limegrover said. “He’s a guy that brings a lot of versatility.
“The nice thing was that even though it was a little bit of trial by fire, I know if we need to (move him), he’s a guy that’s got the mental makeup and the maturity — even though he’s a young guy — to be able to jump in there and do a number of different things.”
A year ago, Eury ran for 1,400 yards behind McGovern at Lake-Lehman. As a walk-on who just arrived in the summer, he’s likely ticketed for a redshirt. Ladonis, a redshirt junior, is backing up Ty Yazujian at long snapper.
For the WVC group as a whole, this could just be the start.
“It’s incredible. We have a great contingent here from Northeast Pa., and I think that keeps us all together,” Monk said. “We like to joke around and talk all the time about where we’re from and everything. It’s awesome.”
Hailing from elsewhere in District 2 are Valley View LB Nyeem Wartman-White, Scranton Prep OL Noah Beh and Wallenpaupack LS Kyle Vasey. Two Lackawanna College transfers — OL Paris Palmer and DL Brenon Thrift — are also on the squad.
“It’s been a great experience,” Monk said. “I think it’s been one of the best times of my life. A great experience and an unbelievable opportunity at the same time. It’s awesome. I love it.”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse