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Penn State defensive end Olaniyan showing marked improvement

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 7:21 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State defensive end C.J. Olaniyan (86) tackles Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (98) during their 43-40, four-overtime victory at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in University Park.

C.J. Olaniyan spent this past offseason being pushed relentlessly by Penn State strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson told him that if he isn't improving, he's getting worse.

He felt the pressure — some subtle, some not-so-subtle — applied by coach Bill O'Brien.

Three years after coming to Penn State as a heralded defensive end recruit, Olaniyan took heed as he prepared for his redshirt junior year.

“Every aspect of my game has improved,” Olaniyan said Wednesday, two days after being honored as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. “I've come a long way, and it's from learning to go full speed on every snap.”

Olaniyan more than tripled his season sack total and almost doubled his tackles for loss during Penn State's 43-40, four-overtime win against Michigan on Saturday.

Against the previously undefeated Wolverines, Olaniyan's presence was starkly visible along a Lions' defensive line that had turned in some mediocre performances as the Nittany Lions lost two of their previous three games. Olaniyan had a career-high eight tackles, 2 12 sacks, a forced fumble and two pass breakups.

Olaniyan entered the game without a forced fumble in 21 previous career games and without a pass breakup this season. It was the kind of game many had envisioned from the 6-foot-3, 244-pound Michigan native who was rated as a four-star recruit by Rivals.

But it took until his fourth year on campus to become a starter (Olaniyan had one start last season). In Penn State's sixth game of the season, Olaniyan had his breakout. Not that he did anything differently against Michigan.

“I have the same mindset every time I go out there,” Olaniyan said. “I do my best to make plays and put my team in a position to win, and this past weekend I made enough plays, and some of the guys around me on the defense made enough plays to get us a ‘W.' ”

Olaniyan's offseason epiphany to “go full speed on every play” earned him the team's Jim O'Hora Award, which goes to the Lions' defensive player who most displays “exemplary conduct, loyalty, interest, attitude and improvement” during spring practice.

“It's a great honor to be named defensive player of the week,” Olaniyan said, “and it just shows that if you keep working hard and keep working every day to improve, good things will happen.”

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at cadamski@triblive.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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