STATE COLLEGE — Penn State coaches told him a year ago he could play right away.
On Saturday, Connor McGovern made it happen.
The Lake-Lehman grad became the first true freshman to play on the offensive line for the Nittany Lions in eight years when he checked in at right guard in the second quarter.
Fifth-year senior Derek Dowrey started in the spot and played most of the game there. McGovern checked back in midway through the third quarter on a field goal drive, chipping away a late pass rusher to give quarterback Trace McSorley enough time to wind up for a 43-yard pass to DeAndre Thompkins.
McGovern is expected to work in and out of the lineup as the season goes along.
The last time Penn State played a true freshman up front was in 2008 when DeOn’tae Pannell saw some spot duty. Stefen Wisniewski also saw the field as an 18-year-old in 2007.
Defensive tackle Ryan Monk, a redshirt freshman from Dallas, also saw his first college action, coming in toward the end of the fourth quarter.
McGovern was one of three members of the 2016 signing class to play on Saturday. Heralded running back recruit Miles Sanders saw time on special teams, getting two kick returns.
Punter Blake Gillikin had an impressive debut. The Lions’ first scholarship punter since Anthony Fera pulled double duty in 2011 averaged 47 yards on six punts.
Fans who have seen four years of inconsistent punting at Beaver Stadium even saved a standing ovation for Gillikin’s first boot, a 49-yarder.
“He showed it time after time after time in practice,” Lions coach James Franklin said of his new punter. “And he can be better than even what he showed today.”
• Tight end Nick Bowers’ season-ending injury is of the lower-body variety. The redshirt freshman arrived at Beaver Stadium on crutches.
Mike Gesicki took nearly all the snaps at the position, save for a brief cameo from junior walk-on Tom Pancoast.
• Starting defensive end Evan Schwan went down in pain in the fourth quarter. He was able to walk off under his own power and got his right foot iced down, ending his day.
Franklin said he did not have an update on Schwan after the game.
• Fellow starter on the line Kevin Givens appeared to be dealing with cramps on two occasions in the second half, ultimately coming off the field on a cart.
• Second-team defensive end Torrence Brown came off the field in the third quarter holding his arm and did not return.
• Reserve defensive tackle Curtis Cothran was not dressed for the game. The converted defensive end was not on the opening depth chart, though it’s unclear if he is injured.
McSorley, G Ryan Bates, Givens, DT Parker Cothren, Schwan and Gillikin all made their first career starts.
Aside from the three true freshmen, a total of 14 redshirt freshmen played in their first game, as did junior college transfer Tyrell Chavis at defensive tackle.
Of the group, defensive end Shareef Miller had the biggest impact. The Philadelphia native figured in on two sacks in limited snaps, splitting one with Givens.
“Really happy for Shareef,” Franklin said. “It’s great to see a guy like that in his first game get two sacks.”
The most talked about play of the game might have been a kickoff.
After the Lions’ second touchdown gave them a 13-6 lead, Joey Julius — focusing solely on kickoffs while Tyler Davis handled field goals and extra points — booted it down the left side.
Fielding the kick for Kent State was 5-foot-6, 155-pound Kavious Price, who evaded a tackler and was trying to shake loose on the sideline.
Julius wouldn’t let him. The 5-foot-10, 258-pound kicker caught with him a shoulder at the 24-yard line, sending the smaller man bouncing off the Beaver Stadium grass before coming to a rest at the 21.
“I told (defensive coordinator Brent Pry) don’t try to put him in the big-hit reel on defense,” Franklin joked. “He probably had the biggest hit of the day.”
Penn State’s bigger defenders approved.
“I loved it,” defensive end Garrett Sickels said. “Ten outta 10 from me.”
Reach Derek Levarse at 570-991-6396 or on Twitter @TLdlevarse