Tyrone senior Denver Light is well aware of the hurdles he will face as a preferred walk-on at Penn State.
But the 6-foot-2, 215-pound quarterback-linebacker also understands the opportunities.
After all, he’s not the first linebacker from the Mountain League to walk on at Linebacker U, and the last turned out to be quite the diamond in the rough.
So it’s not surprising that Light took the advice of Penns Valley’s Josh Hull last summer when weighing his college football options.
“He helped me a lot,” said Light, who said his father knew Hull’s father from their work at Penn State. “He said to make the most of it. Get in when you can, and always do things to get better before and after practice.”
All Light needed was the offer, and he received it last weekend while visiting Happy Valley for the Penn State-Michigan State game. Light will begin his career as a Nittany Lion next fall as a preferred walk-on, he announced Monday.
“I’m excited,” Light said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was young. In tenth and eleventh grade I was undersized. The summer of my tenth grade year I worked hard to put on a ton of size, and I put on more weight before my junior year. That was when I started getting more looks. I’ve been with Penn State for a while, and when the walk-on opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t pass it up.”
Light said he is ready and willing to put in the work it will take to get on the field for the Nittany Lions, something Hull did masterfully in his four-year career, which he began as a walk-on in 2006 before assuming a starting position by his junior year.
Hull was eventually drafted by the St. Louis Rams to begin a 5-year NFL career.
“The opportunity is there. I just have to make the most of it,” Light said.
Light has been a four-year starter for the Golden Eagles, storming onto the scene as a freshman to start at linebacker on a team that finished 9-3 and played in the District 6 2A semifinals. That season he had 73 tackles and a pair of takeaways.
He added the quarterback position to his repertoire as a sophomore, and he’s got two 1,000-yard passing seasons under his belt. With 3,258 passing yards in his career, Light is 224 yards shy of Leonard Wilson for second place on the program’s career passing yardage list.
Light is also just 118 yards away from going over 4,000 total yards for his career, which would put him in an elite group at Tyrone that includes only seven other players.
Defensively, Light has posted 319 career tackles, highlighted by a junior season when he led the team with 134, more than doubling the nearest tackler on the team.
Coach Jason Wilson wasn’t surprised by the offer, considering the amount of effort Light has put into improving his game.
“He’s a great athlete and a team leader,” said Wilson. “He has a tremendous work ethic, and it’s a great accomplishment for his hard work to pay off.”
In order for Light to accept the walk-on opportunity at Penn State, he had to take back a verbal commitment he had given to Fordham University over the summer, which wasn’t easy, he said.
“I hate to disappoint people, so saying I was de-committing was hard,” Light said. “But ultimately I knew it was my choice.”
Light’s father John, who played for Tyrone from 1988-1991 before playing at Williamson, said he and his wife Becky made it clear to Denver they were behind whichever school he chose.
“We told him we would support him whatever he would decide,” said John, who is the president of Teamsters Local Union 8, which represents members at Penn State. “We are very proud of him for never giving up on his goals and to see one of them come to life.”
The ties to Penn State were strong for Denver. Along with his father’s workings with the university, his mother, who is a middle school teacher at Tyrone, is a Penn State grad, and his older brother Gage is a sophomore at Penn State Altoona.
“He works his butt off in the offseason to make himself better and to have opportunities,” John said. “This is on him, and he deserves it. He will continue to work hard at Penn State because that is what he does and who he is.”
Until then, Light still has some unfinished high school business to take care of. Tyrone plays 5-3 Penns Valley Friday, looking to end a four-game losing streak and solidify a spot in the 3A playoffs.
“Penns Valley is a tough team,” said Denver, who has completed 51 percent of his passes this season for 1,079 yards. “Their passing game is pretty good. We’ve got to play like we did last week (in a 28-13 loss to 5A Hollidysburg). You live and learn.”