It was hard to ignore the irony.
After being hampered by injury after injury in his first three years at Penn State, former Trinity wide receiver Christian Kuntz found himself with a tremendous opportunity — thanks to more injuries.
This time, it wasn’t Kuntz who was once again bitten by the injury bug, but a handful of Nittany Lion receivers who were forced to sit out of April’s Blue-White game with varying ailments.
Suddenly Kuntz, who had worked hard just to get back on the field for the Lions’ annual spring scrimmage, slid up the depth chart and made the most of his opportunity to get some reps with the first-team offense.
The numbers weren’t staggering — two catches for 16 yards and a touchdown — but it was enough to let Kuntz know that he still had it.
“That was one of the first football games I played since I’ve had the injury bug,” Kuntz said during the team’s media day on Aug. 9. “Confidence in the mental game is the biggest thing with an injury. I took some hits. I was tired. Everyone was tired because we were thin at receiver. Being able to show that I could still score and being in that end zone again felt really good.”
After redshirting his freshman season, Kuntz suffered a pair of injuries in his second year, an MCL tear that caused him to miss to first five games of the 2010 season and a broken collarbone that ended his year and hindered him in the seven games in which he appeared last season.
He made sure to test both in the Blue-White game, snagging a pass around the 5-yard line from quarterback Matt McGloin and diving into the end zone for the score.
“That’s the thing, when you play timid that’s usually when you get hurt,” Kuntz said. “You just gotta wipe that out of your mind and play fast every single day.”
Injuries in the past, Kuntz now faces another battle — trying to find playing time in a crowded wide receiver corps.
According to first-year Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, there’s still a battle going on at receiver behind sophomore Allen Robinson, who O’Brien said will be one of the starters when the Lions open Sept. 1 against Ohio.
On the depth chart released at the conclusion of spring practice, Robinson was listed as a starter along with Devon Smith and Justin Brown, who have both since left the team.
The departures have created openings for players like junior Shawney Kersey, sophomore Alex Kenney, senior Evan Lewis and the freshman trio of Matt Zanellato, Eugene Lewis and Trevor Williams.
If healthy, Robinson and Kersey are the top options on the outside, leaving Kuntz in a battle with the remaining players for reps in the slot position.
Still, given the position Kuntz was in a year ago, he’s happy to have the chance to compete.
“Being able to say I can compete for a job here and help this team during this time is something special,” Kuntz said. “Even if I’m not a starter on this team, I’ll be able to come off the bench and play whatever role Coach O’Brien wants me.”
As for the void left with Brown and Smith leaving, Kuntz is confident that whoever sees time at receiver will help make up for the loss. And he uses his coach’s track record to help support that belief.
O’Brien’s offense in New England put up huge numbers without having household names in the receiver spots. Granted, the Lions don’t have a quarterback the likes of Tom Brady, but Kuntz likes what he sees from the wideouts.
“It’s a completely different offense,” Kuntz said. “You don’t need a big name receiver. A lot of people thought we fell off because of (players leaving), but we have great athletes like Shawney Kersey, who, if you saw his numbers testing you would compare him to the guys in the NFL. I think you’ll be surprised with what we have and Coach O’Brien is gonna construct this offense to work with what we have.”
Kuntz is just searching for his way to be a part of it.