So now we know why Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still finally emerged as a force for the Nittany Lions in the final game of the 2010 season.
Penn State may have lost to Florida, 37-24, in the Outback Bowl in Tampa. But it was hardly for a lack of production from Still, who had seven tackles, including 3.5 in the Gator backfield.
Heading into the 2010 campaign, many projected stardom for the massive 6-foot-5, 310-pounder as he replaced All-American Jared Odrick. But things never completely clicked in the regular season.
Then it all came together in the bowl. Why?
I just wanted to go out and prove myself and be a dominant player, Still said. I decided to watch more tape. I decided to play a different style of football. I hope that carries over to next season.
A different style of football?
I played more aggressive, he explained. Our defense is based off the linebackers. So we're supposed to take up offensive tackles and offensive guards so linebackers can make plays. This game, I just decided to go after it and not really hold up offensive linemen like that.
And how did the coaches react to that?
They told me I did a great job, Still said. As long as I make the plays, they are willing to let me take chances.
Still said to expect more of the same in 2011. Now a senior, he is embracing the role of leader, both in what he says and does.
Asked how critical this year is to him, he steered his answer toward the concept of, it is not only important for me, but for the team. He added the defense in particular was disappointed with its overall effort in 2010. Of course you take it personally, he said. We have a certain standard for ourselves from the people who came before.
Still dropped a bit of weight in the off-season to improve his stamina to stay on the field longer. And he's done his best to mentor the rest of the defensive tackles, a potentially outstanding group that also includes his backup, James Terry, as well a nose men Jordan Hill (who has been dominating the whole spring, according to Still) and Brandon Ware.
Still has been similarly impressed by State's revamped linebacker crew, which figures to be more athletic and deeper than last season's veteran-dominated yet injury-plagued group.
The linebacker corps we have now is the best I've seen in a while, Still said.
In his eyes, it is just the kind of unit that can support a defensive tackle who is pressing the action, taking a chance here and there, doing whatever he can to make plays. And that's a good thing, since Still intends to be just such a tackle come fall.
I'm really going to try to play this season the way I played against Florida, Still said.