STATE COLLEGE — Penn State safety Jonathan Sutherland patiently awaits his moment.
A targeting penalty on starter Garrett Taylor last year against Indiana resulted in Sutherland taking his place. He seized the opportunity, collecting seven tackles and adding a fumble recovery for emphasis in two quarters of action.
Sutherland, a redshirt sophomore from Episcopal High School (Alexandria, Virginia) via Ontario, Canada, made his first collegiate start one week later against Iowa with Taylor unavailable for the first half due to the NCAA’s targeting penalty. Taylor maintained his stronghold on the starting position after his return, and Sutherland finished the year with 38 tackles and playing time in 13 games as a reserve.
This year, Sutherland again finds himself playing behind Taylor and junior Lamont Wade, but he’s found another way to make an impact. Sutherland was named Penn State’s special teams captain ahead of the season opener.
It’s not a starting position, but he delights the same in the designation.
“I just took pride in coming to work every day and trying to contribute to whatever I could possibly do on the team,” Sutherland said. “I found myself in a position where I could excel on special teams. I just went with it and kept working.”
Sutherland appeared on all four special team units against Idaho last Saturday and was named Penn State’s special teams Player of the Week.
Sutherland’s impact on the team isn’t always visible to the untrained eye. While he isn’t likely to lead the Nittany Lion defense in tackles or interceptions on Saturdays, his work ethic and attention have gotten the attention of Pen State Coach James Franklin.
“That’s in the weight room, that’s with study hall, that’s with school,” Franklin said. “That’s obviously with the game of football and his practice habits. I’ve been talking about him inside Lasch building with our team as a guy that’s got great habits and really does everything right.”
For a moment this offseason, Sutherland appeared to have a legitimate chance to crack Penn State’s starting rotation at safety. Wade poked at the idea of leaving the school and entered the NCAA’s transfer portal in January. With Taylor occupying one of the safety positions for his senior season, Sutherland emerged as a candidate for the other. Wade’s curiosity didn’t last long. He announced his intention to stay at Penn State by the end of the month.
“He thought it was the best decision to make for him in that moment,” Sutherland said of Wade. “Obviously when he came back, everyone was thrilled. At the end of the day, it’s a brotherhood. I’m happy for him. He put the work in and deserves everything he’s been getting.”
Penn State’s secondary also received an enhancement in the form of Lackawanna Community College safety standout Jaquan Brisker, who transferred in the offseason. Brisker, a junior, arrived at Penn State as the No. 4-ranked junior college player by 247Sports.com.
Unfazed by Wade’s return or Brisker’s arrival, Sutherland continued going about his business.
“He’s that guy that’s going to always do the little extras: watching tape, watching video, asking questions,” Franklin said. “Every play for him is the Super Bowl. I mean, that’s just kind of how he is.”
Although a starting safety spot right now might be out of Sutherland’s clutches, last year showed him that could change at a moment’s notice. Taylor was flagged for targeting on the first play of the game against Idaho, but the call was overturned upon review. With Taylor and Wade occupying their positions in the Nittany Lions’ secondary, Sutherland’s embraced his role as a special teams leader. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to positively influence a Penn State win.
“I mean, it’s a great honor and we take a lot of pride in that, being on all four special teams,” Sutherland said. “Just like offense and defense, special teams is a phase of the game that can decide if you win or lose the game. So, we take a lot of pride in that and how we approach that.”