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Sep 1, 2013
By Tony Mancuso
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Growing up just 15 miles from the Meadowlands in the Bronx, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong had Saturday's season-opener at MetLife Stadium circled all summer.
With a family cheering section of 10 willing him on in the stands, Obeng-Agyapong played like a man on a mission in Penn State's 23-17 win over Syracuse.
"It felt really good to be out there," Obeng-Agyapong said. "Having the support of my family out there made me play even harder."
From start to finish, the senior left everything on the field. He changed uniforms at halftime because he had sweated through the first in just a matter of minutes on the 90-plus-degree FieldTurf. But the heat didn't slow him down. He played downhill throughout the afternoon, and Obeng-Agyapong wasn't going to be denied in his return home.
"I think it might've been my best game ever," Obeng-Agyapong said. "Probably even high school."
It's hard to argue. He filled the stat sheet with eight tackles, one shy of his career-high, forced and recovered a fumble, notched a sack on an all-out blitz and hauled in his first interception. What magnified the performance from No. 7 even more was the fact that he did it in a new position.
After spending the past four years at safety, the coaching staff asked Obeng-Agyapong to learn how to play outside linebacker during training camp. With Mike Hull out of the game on Saturday, he stepped up in a big way for the Nittany Lions.
"I've had good practices at linebacker, and after the first game I feel like I'm getting the gist of it," Obeng-Agyapong said. "We are going to keep on playing hard and see what happens."
He looked like a natural lining up around the line of scrimmage. Obeng-Agyapong had a nose for the football all afternoon. On a day full of big plays, Obeng-Agyapong said one would stand out.
Facing a 3rd-and-9 mid-way through the fourth quarter, Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen had a face full of Obeng-Agyapong before he could deliver a pass. On an all-out blitz from the edge, the senior delivered a punishing hit, which forced a sack and Orange punt.
"Your eyes light up. I was actually thinking about going for the strip sack, but I was like 'nah, let me just go for the sack.' It was a third down play, they were going to punt regardless. In college, that was probably my biggest hit. I was in the moment," Obeng-Agyapong said.
Obeng-Agyapong's efforts were heralded by his teammates and fellow linebackers following the victory.
"Obeng really stepped up for us," senior linebacker Glenn Carson said. "When a guy goes down, you're always looking for that guy to step in and that's what depth is all about. He's a kid that works hard and it's his senior year so it's great to see him excel on the field like that."
He is a player who puts the team ahead of personal accolades, and that's what head coach Bill O'Brien likes. The recent graduate in information sciences and technology will continue to play an instrumental role on defense and special teams for the Nittany Lions in 2013.
"He's a guy, just like all of these guys, that is a real team guy," O'Brien said. "He's kind of an in-between guy. He plays on all of the special teams, he's from right here in New York City, and it was a great homecoming for him.
"We've asked him to play safety, we've asked him to play linebacker, we've asked him to play nickel, and learn how to blitz, and play the run. What more can you ask of that guy? He's a fantastic kid, and very important part of our program."
Obeng-Agyapong and the Nittany Lions now shift focus to the first game in Beaver Stadium. Penn State takes on Eastern Michigan at noon on Saturday.