September 22, 2011

Astorino enjoying injury-freedom

He's too short. He's too slow. There's no way he's big enough to play major college football. He shouldn't even be starting.

Drew Astorino has heard it all. Ever since he was a multi-sport athlete at General McLane High in Edinboro, Pa., Astorino has had to deal with more than his fair share of naysayers. Now, even as a captain on Penn State's defense this season, he still has to put up with the criticism. But that is just fine with the 5-foot-10, 207-pound senior.

"I embrace it, I love it," he said. "There is nothing I can do about how tall I am."

He is used to it by now. The critique of his size, or lack thereof, trailed him throughout his high school career. Astorino originally committed to play football for Kent State, because, for the most part, the larger programs overlooked him and his size.

Just two days before the 2007 signing day, however, Astorino got a call from Joe Paterno. Penn State's last available scholarship had been reserved for the PIAA Class AAA Player of the Year.

"I immediately committed on the phone," Astorino remembered. "It was just so special. I can still remember just telling my mom."

Since that day, Astorino has become a fixture in the Nittany Lions' defensive backfield as a three-year starter. From time to time, Astorino will still hear knocks on his size and playing ability, but his teammate Michael Mauti said those are usually unjust.

"He isn't afraid of coming in there to take on a 300-pound offensive tackle and knock him backward," Mauti said. "He is just a dependable tackler, and he gets his hands on the ball and makes plays. I mean, the kid is just an athlete."

During his high school days, Astorino proved that his all-around athleticism is arguably his greatest attribute. As a high school senior, Astorino lead his team to the Class AAA state championship by scoring the winning touchdown.

Then during that same school year, Astorino scored the game-winning basket - although he grew up a wrestler - to propel his basketball squad to yet another state crown.

"Those are two great memories that I'll have for the rest of my life," he said. "That was really special, not only for me and my teammates, but for the small town I grew up in."

Now in his final year at Penn State, Astorino said he hopes to repeat his high school heroics, and his play on the field has so far reflected that. Throughout the first three games, Astorino, now healthy after battling a chronic shoulder injury last season, has an interception, 10 tackles and is tied for the team high in pass breakups.

His teammates have admitted that he is playing with a new found fire this season, even if it is not always under control.

Late in the fourth quarter against Temple Astorino was called for a personal foul right after Penn State took the game-winning lead. Luckily for him, his defense bailed him out, and the penalty was overcome.

"He was just being aggressive," Jack Crawford said. "I guess he just got caught up in the moment."

With a chip on his shoulder, Astorino has found that he needs to play with a little bit of added aggression to keep up with bigger competitors. And so far that has worked for him.

"Personally, I am really proud of my accomplishments here for being the last scholarship," he said. "I have had so much fun here, and I still have one more season."




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