ORLANDO, Fla. — He went from Lake-Lehman to the Big Ten, and now, Connor McGovern has his eyes set on the big time.
One of the most durable, consistent members of Penn State’s offensive line the past three seasons, the 6-foot-5, 323-pound McGovern announced through his Twitter account Wednesday that he will forego his senior season to make himself available for this April’s NFL Draft.
“As a Pennsylvania kid from Lake-Lehman HS and the small town of Larksville, it has been an honor to play for Penn State,” McGovern wrote. “After much research, thought and discussion, I have decided to declare for the NFL Draft.
“I’d like to thank my family, friends, coaches and advisors who have helped me grow as a person and a player. I completely understand the immense challenge before me and that this decision will invoke various opinions of my readiness. What I am ready to do is to relentlessly work to improve each and every day.”
McGovern was rated as the No. 1 guard prospect in the upcoming draft by ESPN’s longtime draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. in November.
The Penn State offensive line spent most of the last three seasons as one of the team’s most maligned units. But McGovern was a stalwart.
After enrolling in January 2016 as one of the most heralded offensive line prospects in the East coming out of Lake-Lehman, McGovern opened his career as a tackle in that spring’s Blue-White Game. By October, McGovern had overtaken senior Derek Dowrey for the starting right guard spot and would go on to start 35 of the next 36 games he played in, including Tuesday’s 27-24 loss to No. 14 Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl at Camping World Stadium.
“Connor has been a great leader for us as a three-year starter,” head coach James Franklin said. “He has been instrumental in building our offensive line room’s chemistry. We are excited for Connor to make this next step in his football career.”
McGovern’s departure leaves big cleats to fill on an offensive line that also loses starting left guard Steven Gonzalez, a senior. Top backup Mike Miranda returns, and Franklin said after moving highly touted former guard C.J. Thorpe to the defensive line earlier this season that he is a candidate to move back to offense. The Nittany Lions will also get help from Lackawanna College product Anthony Whigan, a standout tackle who has experience at guard.
Three others turning pro
Defensive end Shareef Miller, offensive lineman Ryan Bates and defensive tackle Kevin Givens also announced Wednesday they will be entering the Draft.
On target to graduate in May, Miller had 41 tackles and 7½ sacks this season.
“Shareef has been a tremendous leader for us this season both on and off the field,” Franklin said. “He has grown so much since arriving in Happy Valley and I am so proud of the man he has become.”
Miller said after the Citrus Bowl that a decision was still “up in the air.” But news that he elected to leave the program was not unexpected.
Bates and Givens were only a bit more surprising.
Bates was a two-time All-Big Ten honoree and a 2016 freshman All-American. He started three seasons at guard and tackle for the Nittany Lions. He graduated in December.
Givens played both defensive end and defensive tackle in 2017, but he shined as a tackle this past season, recording 33 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and five sacks.
Running back Miles Sanders, another Nittany Lions standout weighing his NFL options, didn’t announce a decision Wednesday.
Drops doom Corley
Penn State receivers dropped more than three dozen passes in 2018, a trend that continued into the Citrus Bowl, when at least three passes from quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Sean Clifford were dropped.
That number caught up to receivers coach David Corley, who was fired Wednesday after just one year on the job.
“I appreciate David’s efforts this season, but feel it is in our program’s best interest to make a change at this time,” Franklin said.
Corley initially was hired in January as Penn State’s running backs coach, but he shifted to receivers coach after Franklin was able to hire running backs coach and recruiting ace Ja’Juan Seider away from Florida.
Reserve LB transfers
Depth at the linebacker position also took a hit Wednesday when backup linebacker Dae’lun Darien announced via Twitter he would seek a transfer.
A former receiver who converted to linebacker, Darien played in 10 games on defense and special teams, registering four tackles.
He praised the Penn State fan base in his announcement, but said he was looking to transfer closer to his home in Maryland to be near his father, who is battling health issues.