Penn State starting role suits Della Valle
College Football Videos
Neil Gordon remembers being annoyed throughout the summer and fall of 2009. Then in his 33rd season as a high school coach, a player Gordon called “one of my favorites of all time I've been around” wasn't getting the looks from the big schools Gordon felt he deserved.
“He's extremely talented. I was a little upset when, as a senior, he wasn't getting D-I recognition — or not much anyway,” Gordon said of Shaler's Jesse Della Valle. “I was fairly experienced in the whole thing. I tried to tell all the coaches, ‘This kid can play. I'm telling you. I know how things work.' ”
Last weekend, Della Valle passed another milestone that has proven the wily veteran coach was right all along.
Della Valle, a redshirt junior, made his first career start on defense in Penn State's loss at Ohio State. Running onto the field for the initial defensive snap with the Nittany Lions' first team at free safety was something the normally polite and reserved Della Valle acknowledged “was something big for me.”
“I was able to be on the field a little bit more in the secondary, so that was something I was excited about,” Della Valle said. “Just to be able to go out there with my teammates, running around, making some plays. I've been preparing every week just like the rest of our guys on the defense and on our team, so I felt prepared.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Della Valle tied for second on the team in total and solo tackles Saturday after spending much of the season buried on the depth chart of what began as one of the team's deepest positions.
“Jesse had a good week of practice, so we decided to go with him,” coach Bill O'Brien said after the Ohio State game. “Jesse is a tough kid from Pittsburgh.”
Gordon was not surprised Della Valle would impress.
“I think Coach O'Brien has used him as an example of what hard work and dedication will do for you,” Gordon said. “He can say, ‘Look at Jesse. He didn't have a scholarship, didn't have the fantastic D-I reputation coming out of high school, but through work ethic and dedication, look at him now.' ”
Della Valle was recruited mostly by FCS programs, many of which had a high academic pedigree (he was Academic All-Big Ten last season). At the behesting of Gordon, he elected to go to Penn State as a walk-on and play for Joe Paterno.
After a redshirt year, he barely saw the field in 2011. But Della Valle caught the eye of O'Brien and the new staff and earned a scholarship in summer 2012. Last season, he played in every game on defense and special teams. His role grew in the secondary, and he burst onto the scene as a return man.
Della Valle settled a Lions punt return that was a weakness early in the season, finishing third in the Big Ten in punt-return average.
He remained Penn State's primary punt returner this season, ranking third in the Big Ten (10.7-yard average) heading into the Lions' home game against Illinois (3-4, 0-3) at noon Saturday.
Early this season, Della Valle's reps on defense weren't coming as often as they had last year. But it was trust in Della Valle, in part, that allowed O'Brien and his staff to feel secure in moving Adrian Amos (to cornerback) and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (to linebacker) from safety even as Ryan Keiser continues to recover from a hand injury.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pedestrian struck, killed by train in Coraopolis
- Steelers interested in playing internationally again
- Heyl: When it comes to vintage items, Munhall store owner an old hand
- Trib wins 12 Golden Quills
- Bridgeville man ready to reboot ‘Robot Repair’ at Pittsburgh airport
- Officials envision reinvigorated Allegheny County Airport
- Steelers offensive line targeting injury-free performance as key
- Trooper fatally shoots burglary suspect inside Somerset grocery store
- Shaler girls lacrosse wins 3rd straight title; Quaker Valley takes D-I
- Armed bandit holds up Leechburg gas station
- Baldwin-Whitehall teacher charged with assault for hitting male student in chest