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PSU wide receiver proves doubters wrong

| Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2009

Few college recruiters believed in Penn State receiver Graham Zug four years ago.

Not one Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision program felt he was worth a scholarship, so Zug paved his own long road to success.

These days, the former walk-on is one of Penn State's top receivers.

"I am very impressed with him, but I knew he had that type of game," quarterback Daryll Clark said. "He is what I call a diamond in the rough. With him being undersized or whatever, he is still one of our best route runners, and he has great hands.

"He is in the right position in our offense to make great plays, and he has done nothing but that."

Zug made a career-high six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown in Penn State's 28-7 win Saturday against Syracuse. All of his catches were for 10 or more yards, and three came on third down.

It's no surprise Clark has relied on Zug to be the go-to guy.

Zug, who also returns punts, is the most experienced of the Nittany Lions' receivers, although he started only three games last season. He sat behind Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood — arguably the best receiving corps in Penn State history — for three seasons before emerging as one of Clark's most dependable targets. Zug has caught all but two passes thrown to him this season.

The redshirt junior's consistency stems from his high school days at Manheim Central. He caught 78 passes for 1,282 yards and 20 touchdowns his senior season.

Still, the recruiters weren't convinced.

To some, the 6-foot-2, 178-pounder was considered to be too small and too slow to play at the Division I level. He could have played at Division II schools, but Zug wanted more for himself.

He turned down a sure thing — guaranteed playing time at a smaller school — for a chance to fulfill his dream of playing for Penn State. He risked never seeing the field — as is the case for many walk-ons at big-time schools — to prove himself right.

"He should be playing at this level," Manheim Central coach Mike Williams said. "In the eyes of some, he never could, but in his eyes, he never thought he couldn't play there. Graham went there with the idea that he's going to play some day."

That Zug was slighted during his recruitment still angers Williams. He hasn't figured out why Zug, with his "talent, ability to get open and great hands," wasn't paid more attention.

Zug, who was awarded a scholarship before the 2008 season, has stopped trying to figure out why it took so long for people to recognize his skills. His 11 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns after two games prove he can play at a Division I level.

"You can't really focus on that," Zug said. "You have to take care of the season. It's nice to think about, but I knew I could do it all along. I just have to trust myself."

Zug relied on his instincts when he started his journey.

Late in his senior year in high school, Zug was visiting Delaware when Penn State called and suggested he walk on to the team. Although Zug was ready to commit to Delaware, which offered a partial scholarship, he was forced to reconsider his options.

There wasn't much discussion. The next day, Zug decided on Penn State — the same choice his father, grandfather, brother and sister made.

"I always loved Penn State, and I wanted to come here, but at first, it didn't seem like I would," Zug said. "Then, Penn State called, and that's when I changed my mind. I thought about it for the night and sat down with my family and they said, 'Don't sell yourself short.' "

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