Clairton graduate Lamont Wade finds happiness in Penn State secondary
After only two games as Penn State’s starting free safety, Lamont Wade can remember only one other time when he was this happy playing football.
“Probably 2016 against Farrell in a state playoff (victory),” said Wade, a Clairton graduate who won three WPIAL championships and earned berths in two PIAA Class A title games in high school. “I remember how happy and excited I was to go to Hershey one last time.”
The stakes are higher these days for Wade, a junior who started this calendar year with his name in the NCAA transfer portal and hopes to end it with a Big Ten championship.
Putting his name into the portal after last season opened new roads for Wade, but in the end, they all led back to Penn State.
Truth be told, the experience turned out to be more than just wasted NCAA paperwork.
It gave him an idea of where he stood with the Penn State coaches and what was expected of him. He’ll be in the starting lineup Saturday when Pitt visits Beaver Stadium.
Wade, who said he started playing football at age 4, was surprised by how many people reached out to him when he was thinking about transferring.
“It kind of felt like high school (and being recruited) all over again,” he said.
In the end, Wade decided Penn State was the best place for him. He’s familiar with the system and close to graduation, but he didn’t ask for or receive any promises of playing time. Actually, just the opposite.
“They said it wasn’t going to just be given to me. It’s kind of like whoever works for it or deserves it is going to get the spot. That’s something I really liked because most places would tell you, ‘If you come back, you’ll be the starter.’
“That wasn’t the case. With the work ethic that I have, that was something I liked to hear.”
Wade said some teammates were surprised he was thinking about transferring, although he was one of several Penn State players who entered the portal.
“They were a little worried. These are my guys,” he said. “A bond got built with these guys. They didn’t want me to go anywhere, but when I came back, they were excited for me.”
Wade was an honorable mention choice on the Big Ten All-Freshman team in 2017, sharing the team lead in special team tackles (10). But didn’t make the same impact last season when he moved from cornerback to safety.
He returned to Penn State this season with increased resolve, and he was rewarded with a starting job at free safety
“Sometimes in life, that’s what happens,” he said. “You do take some steps back, and it’s not because of your ability or it’s not because of what’s going on. It’s because it’s setting you up for later. That step back my sophomore year kind of hit me, like, I realized I’ve got to get this together. I’ve got to get myself right in all aspects.”
Wade, 5-foot-9, 194 pounds, said he feels like “a completely different player.”
“Of course, I’m the same me. I just feel like I’m in better shape. I’m way more mentally prepared. I’m way more physically prepared. I’m the fastest I’ve ever been. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. I feel like I have the most confidence that I’ve had since I’ve been here.
“I’ve matured a lot, not just as a player, but as a man, also as a student and as a father as well. That’s what this whole experience is for.”
Penn State senior middle linebacker Jan Johnson said Wade brings “a lot of juice” to the defense.
“He’s a fast kid who can cover and is not afraid to come down and hit,” Johnson said.
Wade might be more qualified than most of his teammates to offer advice to those thinking about leaving.
“The advice I would give them is know yourself, trust yourself and believe in yourself, because everything is how it’s going to be,” he said. “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .