Penn State Nittany Lions: Zayd Issah

PSU position preview: Linebackers

August, 14, 2013
As part of an ongoing series, NittanyNation will preview a different position leading up to the season opener against Syracuse on Aug. 31. Up today: Linebackers.

Projected starters: Mike Hull (2012 stats: 58 tackles, four sacks, one interception, two fumble recoveries, one blocked kick), Glenn Carson (85 tackles, three tackles-for-loss) and Nyeem Wartman (one tackle, one blocked kick)

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesNittany Lions linebacker Glenn Carson had 85 tackles last season.
Key losses: Michael Mauti (95 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles) and Gerald Hodges (109 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, two interceptions, nine pass deflections)

Next in line: Ben Kline could've challenged Wartman for the starting job if it weren't for a nagging shoulder injury, but he's missed a lot of time after offseason surgery. (Bill O'Brien said Kline will "hopefully" be ready for the season opener.) He's still clearly the top backup here, but he'll have to shake off rust quickly to be effective.

Outside of Kline, the staff will be forced to turn to a raw Gary Wooten who redshirted last season. And then there's always true freshman Brandon Bell and the run-ons. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong will also be utilized at times this season, likely replacing Wartman on passing downs, and could possibly play more weakside if injuries become a pressing concern.

What to expect: If there's one position that concerns O'Brien, when it comes to depth, it's linebacker.

ESPN's coach of the year has echoed that sentiment throughout the offseason and training camp. There are two solid starters here, in Carson and Hull, but every other linebacker is a question mark. Wartman flashed a lot of potential in two contests last season before a season-ending injury, and he looks to become a four-year starter. But can he be effective with such limited experience?

Even if does play well, the Nittany Lions are one injury away from a disaster at linebacker. Wartman can be good this season, but there's a lot less faith in those backups. Kline missed the spring and the summer, and he might not be ready to go in time for Week 1. If PSU has to rely on Wooten or someone else here, that player immediately becomes the Achilles' heel of this defense.

Recruiting trail: The Nittany Lions seemed to be in a lot better shape earlier in the summer. Sure, they still have four-star MLB Troy Reeder (Wilmington, Del./Salesianum), who is just on the outside of the ESPN 300, but they also basically lost two other linebackers.

Since July, the Lions have parted ways with Class of 2013 LB Zayd Issah (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin) after another run-in with the law and three-star LB Jared Wangler (Warren, Mich./De La Salle), who decommitted in favor of Michigan. That makes LB a much bigger priority now.

Syracuse commit Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) could be the next in line for an offer. He impressed the staff during a June camp, and PSU badly needs to take another linebacker now.

Best-case scenario: Wartman shows he'll be the next big thing at Linebacker U and earns an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. There's only a slight drop-off in production from last season, but the linebacking corps remains one of the team's strengths as Carson and Hull form to become the best duo in the conference.

Worst-case scenario: Carson or Hull go down early and miss the season, while Kline's shoulder continues to bother him throughout the year. Wooten or Bell are then plugged in before they're ready, and the group of linebackers struggles as a whole and brings down the entire defense.

Top position question: What kind of linebacker will Wartman be? He's a run-stuffer, first and foremost, which is why the Lions will likely plug in a safety at his position on passing downs. It'll basically be the 2013 version of the "Roadrunner" package.

But that doesn't mean quickness is a problem for Wartman. He boasts great straight-line speed, and the Florida Gators recruited him heavily for that very reason. He also garnered a reputation in high school as a hard-hitter, and that was clearly well-earned.

During the Blue-White Game, he diagnosed a screen pass and blew up the intended receiver in the hit of the game. (He was a bit disappointed in himself about that hit because, although the receiver crumpled to the turf, he didn't wrap up the target because he "was licking my chops too much.")

It would come as no surprise if Wartman forced a few fumbles. He'll likely end up as a four-year starter for Penn State. This might not be the year where PSU fans start buying No. 5 jerseys en masse -- but it should happen by 2014 or 2015.

NittanyNation: Week in review

July, 15, 2013
NittanyNation takes a look at the past week's Penn State football news and what you might have missed:
  • Three-star LB Zayd Issah faces another felony charge after an incident early Saturday morning in State College. Bill O'Brien told ESPN that, "If this is true, he certainly won't be part of the team."
  • In Friday's chat, we talked about the focus of the 2015 class, Christian Hackenberg's chances at starting now and more.
  • Ryan McGee, a senior writer at ESPN the Magazine, took a look at the five teams who are most likely to play the role of spoiler this season -- and PSU made an appearance Insider.

LB Zayd Issah charged with felony

July, 13, 2013
Three-star linebacker Zayd Issah, who was expected to join Penn State in January, is in trouble with the law again. And, if the newest allegations are true, head coach Bill O'Brien said he won't be joining the team.

According to police and the criminal docket, State College police were called to Beaver Hill Apartments at 1 a.m. Saturday, when Issah was charged with a felony for aggravated assault, three counts of resisting arrest and one count of marijuana possession. His bail was set at $20,000.

"If this is true, he certainly won't be part of the team," O'Brien said Saturday afternoon.

The newest allegations come four months after Issah faced felony charges for passing off counterfeit $20 bills at a McDonald's in Harrisburg, Pa. As a result of those charges, Issah was recently accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, which is open to first-time offenders in an attempt to wipe the criminal charges from their records.

O'Brien initially released Issah from his letter of intent after the first round of charges. But Issah had hoped to join the team in January following a semester at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.

Issah could not immediately be reached for comment.

"I just got a call from someone in State College, so I don't know too much about it," O'Brien said. "He was not going to be at Penn State this year at all. So I don't know the ins and outs yet; I'm on vacation now -- but he wasn't coming to Penn State this year."

Issah committed to Penn State before the announcement of PSU's sanctions on July 23, 2012. He decommitted in the fall and then re-committed on Dec. 9. He planned to enroll over the summer and compete for immediate playing time until his first run-in with police for attempting to pass off fake $20 bills.

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound linebacker played in the Big 33 Game last month, which pitted a roster of Pennsylvania all-stars against Maryland, and said then he felt as if PSU treated him fairly.

"It's Linebacker U," Issah said. "Penn State's Linebacker U. That's all I got to say. I got my sights set on PSU right now, unless something changes."

Issah started both ways for Central Dauphin and finished his senior season with 80 tackles, 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles. On offense he had 376 rushing yards, 275 receiving yards and nine total touchdowns.

Friday mailbag: Lewis, Shell & 'ships 

July, 5, 2013
Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions, and we've selected three to answer this week.

Jack Brown writes: What kind of season can we expect from Eugene Lewis? Can he catch 50 balls this season, and do you think he can be as good as Allen Robinson?

Zayd Issah, Andrew NelsonJosh Moyer/ESPNZayd Issah still has plans to join Andrew Nelson at Penn State after a year at a TBD prep school.
HERSHEY, Pa. -- Beneath the specter of an uncertain future, and a criminal act the community is all too aware of, Zayd Issah lingered on the field Saturday night -- and finally smiled.

With sweat running down his nose and his face, so that it was indistinguishable from what might have been tears, Issah smiled. It has been an emotionally taxing three months for the three-star athlete, who faces several charges for allegedly passing off counterfeit $20 bills at fast-food restaurants. He tried to enjoy an oasis of football on Saturday night.

Under the lights of Hersheypark Stadium, after Pennsylvania dominated Maryland 58-27 in the Big 33 Game, he quickly embraced four-star PSU signee Andrew Nelson. He sought out his family on the field, and he stopped every few seconds to sign autographs and pose for giggling girls who asked for group photos.

Issah obliged, but he kept walking, away from the crowds and the groups, without any destination in particular. It seemed as if he just wanted to soak in the moment and forget about his troubles for at least a little.

"They say football's a game of second chances," he said. "So I want to use mine to the best of my ability and make the most out of it."

Bill O'Brien has not severed ties with the talented linebacker out of Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin. The staff appeared to offer him an ultimatum: Head elsewhere or enroll in prep school, clean up your act and then maybe rejoin the PSU family in January.

That's still the plan for Issah, who is deciding between Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy and New Berlin (N.Y.) Milford Academy.

"Where do you stand with PSU?" asked one reporter.

"It's Linebacker U," he replied, harkening back to the same response he gave nearly 190 days ago. "Penn State's Linebacker U. That's all I got to say. I got my sights set on PSU right now, unless something changes."

Issah, still smiling and receiving pats on the back from passers-by, was pressed. What could that "something" be?

"I'll know when it happens, really," he said, nodding when asked if he's heading in with the mindset that he'll remain a Nittany Lion.

Individual defensive stats were not kept at the Big 33 Game, but Issah's name echoed over the PA system throughout the night. He started at outside linebacker, played defensive end during "speed packages," and seemed to leave all the emotion and bottled-up frustration of three months on the field.

On one early play, Issah drifted right but quickly reversed course and made a tackle near the opposite sideline. It was an effort not lost on Pennsylvania coach Art Walker, who focused on Issah's leadership this past week and didn't mention his less-recent hardship.

"He just had great work ethic," said Walker, who coaches Wexford (Pa.) North Allegheny. "He did a great job of anything we asked. He handled everything we threw at him. He responded well and had a great attitude.

"He's a good teammate, and he led by example. He's everything you want out of a player."

Issah isn't completely sure what comes next. He'll enroll in one of those two prep schools by August, but he's not yet sure which one. It'll likely come down to finances, he said.

The 6-foot-3 prospect already knows he'll be receiving scholarship assistance from FUMA. Milford hasn't yet responded with a number.

"I'm a little closer with Fork Union right now," he said, "so I'm still waiting to get a relationship with Milford."

Issah simply responded with, "Yeah," when asked if he felt like he received a fair shake. But, with his shoulder pads still on and that smile still fixed to his face, he thought for a moment when asked one final question, whether he wanted to get anything off his chest.

"I love to play football. I don't want to stop; that's it," he said. "And I'm glad they didn't take that chance away from me."
Three-star linebacker Zayd Issah will not football at Penn State this fall, but "eventually he could end up at Penn State down the road," Bill O'Brien told The Associated Press on Wednesday evening.

Issah, a standout athlete at Harrisburg (Pa.) Central Dauphin, was charged March 10 with trying to pass off counterfeit $20 bills at a local McDonald's. According to the criminal complaint, Issah and two teenage friends tried to pass off the fake bills while paying at the drive-thru window. They fled, but employees identified the vehicle, and police later found them.

Issah faces felony charges for conspiracy and forgery and also misdemeanors for theft by deception. The Harrisburg-Patriot News first reported the story last week.

"We want what's best for Zayd. We don't think Zayd is a bad kid at all. We think he's a young guy that's made a couple questionable decisions," O'Brien told the AP. "His next move will be determined by him ... He will not be here next year to play football at Penn State, but eventually he could end up at Penn State down the road."

According to the AP, O'Brien met with Issah and his parents over the weekend. A decision has still not been reached on his next step.

Issah decommitted after the sanctions and contemplated choosing Oregon, Arizona State or another school. Eventually, more than three months later on Dec. 9, he re-committed to the Nittany Lions.

"It's Linebacker U," Issah told ESPN before signing day. "That did it for me."

The linebacker's departure -- short-term or otherwise -- is a blow to the Nittany Lions this season. O'Brien lamented the linebacker depth this spring, and there will now just be a half-dozen scholarship players at the position over the summer.

One of those players, Ben Kline, is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. And another, Brandon Bell, is an incoming freshman.

NittanyNation: Week in review

March, 31, 2013
NittanyNation takes a look at this week’s Penn State football news and what you might have missed:

NittanyNation mailbag: RBs, LBs & Issah 

March, 29, 2013
Welcome to NittanyNation's mailbag! We asked you to tweet or email your questions, and we've selected three to answer in-depth this week.

Corey McDonnell (@Team_McDonnell) writes: Which two running backs will get the most carries in 2013?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Three-star Penn State signee Zayd Issah is facing felony charges after police say he tried to pass counterfeit $20 bills at a McDonald's. His status with the Nittany Lions remains unknown.

According to the criminal complaint and Susquehanna Township Police Chief Rob Martin, police were called to a McDonald's in Harrisburg, Pa., on March 9 after Issah and two teenage friends tried to pass off the fake bills while paying at the drive-thru window. They fled, but employees identified the vehicle, and police later found them.

The incoming freshman linebacker from Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg was identified by one of the suspects, and Facebook messages also were intercepted between Issah and another suspect that showed he "both knew the money was forged and solicited a plan to 'clean it,' " according to the complaint.

Martin said the local forgeries have been part of an ongoing investigation, and Issah is believed to have played a minor role.

"We've been duly investigating this with the U.S. Secret Service," Martin told ESPN.

Issah was released on $1,000 unsecured bail and will take part in a preliminary hearing on May 9. He is charged with two felony counts each of conspiracy and forgery, and he also faces misdemeanors for theft by deception.

According to the complaint, Issah used the counterfeit money at two separate locations and was involved with transactions at two other fast-food restaurants.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News was the first to report the story.

Penn State spokesman Jeff Nelson did not return a message seeking comment.

Spring primer: QBs, injuries & more

March, 18, 2013
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- While Bill O'Brien's voice carried over the field Monday afternoon, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher directed his players in a calmer manner.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
Tom Hauck for ESPNTyler Ferguson showed off his big arm at practice Monday.
During position drills at Penn State's first spring practice, Fisher stood about five yards in front of his four quarterbacks as they took turns taking three- and five-step drops. The quartet of red jerseys would look at Fisher, quickly scan the field and then throw to a stationary receiver.

"Eyes here," Fisher told sophomore Steven Bench in a conversational tone, pointing to his his right. "Work through it, work through it."

Bench or Tyler Ferguson could wind up as the starting quarterback come Aug. 31, and Monday offered a glimpse of the two signal-callers. Media were invited to attend 20 minutes of open practice, and O'Brien began by calling together a competition: A defensive back would line up against a wideout or tight end in press coverage, while Bench and Ferguson would alternate snaps.

The first team -- offense or defense -- to win three battles would be declared the winner. The losers would be forced to perform five hit-its. It was more for honor than anything and only four passes were thrown while the quarterbacks tried to shake off the rust.

Bench began by just overthrowing Allen Robinson on a roughly 35-yard pass, and Ferguson then hit Jesse James in stride downfield on an over-the-shoulder grab. Bench followed that up by throwing behind his target on cross route, and Ferguson barely overthrew Matt Lehman for two straight incompletions.

The offense, along with Ferguson and Bench, then hit the turf for their hit-its while the defense cheered.

"They're both athletic, they both can throw the football," O'Brien said during a Monday news conference. "Now it's going to depend on how well they make decisions and how accurately they throw the ball.

"They sit in the front row, they pay attention, they take a lot of notes. It's a fun group to be around."

(Read full post)

5 three-star PSU commits to watch 

February, 12, 2013
Zayd IssahTom Hauck/ESPNHSZayd Issah is a local product who could do a lot in his career at Penn State.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Some of the Nittany Lions' top players right now were three-star recruits who flew just under the radar: Deion Barnes, Adrian Amos, Mike Hull, Kyle Carter. And the list goes on.

The Class of 2013 looks to continue that trend. NittanyNation decided to take a closer look at some three-star players in this class whom fans should keep an eye on.

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How '13 commits want to be remembered 

February, 7, 2013
Now that Penn State's Class of 2013 is officially in the books, we decided to ask the commits about their future with the Nittany Lions.

NittanyNation posed the same question to everyone: How do you think -- or hope -- your class will be remembered in four or five years?

Here's what they had to say:

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O'Brien talks about 2013 signees 

February, 6, 2013
Coaches aren't able to talk about individual recruits until they sign their letters of intent. Here's how Penn State coach Bill O'Brien responded to questions about them Wednesday:

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Penn State has signed larger and more decorated recruiting classes than the 2013 version, and brought in more big names. But the program has never faced NCAA sanctions, including scholarship reductions and postseason probation. Under the circumstances, the 17-member recruiting class PSU signed Wednesday might be one of the most impressive in team history. Penn State brought in star power like quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, retained most of its top recruits and addressed several needs. Head coach Bill O'Brien and his assistants have received a lot of praise for their first recruiting class of the sanction era, and deservedly so. caught up with O'Brien on Wednesday to discuss the class.

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NittanyNation signing day recap

February, 6, 2013
Signing day has gone smoothly in Happy Valley.

Here's a recap of how the letters of intent came in and how the class came together in Penn State's Class of 2013.

Follow the live blog after the jump.

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