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Penn State's Star Receiver Looks to Lift Nittany Lions

October 07, 1995|KEN MURRAY | BALTIMORE SUN

In the wake of Penn State's first loss in two years, and in the middle of a players-only team meeting this week, Bobby Engram talked about confronting adversity.

It is a subject for which Penn State's All-America split end is most qualified.

Four years ago, Engram had to deal with the sudden loss of his father, Simon Engram, who was killed in an accident back home in Camden, S.C.

Three years ago, he had to deal with his dismissal from the university after being charged with burglary, theft and receiving stolen property -- a stereo -- from a State College apartment.

Yet here he is today, the recipient of the first-ever Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation's best receiver in 1994, a team leader and a respected member of the college community.

And there Engram was this week, cautioning his teammates on how to deal with a 17-9 upset loss to Wisconsin that put a severe crimp in Penn State's national championship plans. Engram, 22, has been here before.

"The one thing I wanted to emphasize was overcoming adversity," he said yesterday. "(Two) years ago, this team didn't handle adversity well.

When No. 12 Penn State puts its season on the line at home against No. 5 Ohio State Saturday, Engram will do what he can to help the Nittany Lions win. That takes in a lot of territory.

"He is willing to do anything it takes to get the job done," Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. "He will block, run the football, or be a decoy. There is no ego involved with him. He wants to be in clutch situations."

Most often, Engram is clutch in those situations. He not only worked his way back into the university and onto the team after his 1992 trouble, but has broken seven school receiving records.

He supplanted Kenny Jackson as Penn State's career leader in receiving yardage in the season opener (the total stands at 2,317). He broke O.J. McDuffie's career reception record last week, and now has 127. He needs just two more touchdown catches to topple Jackson's career mark of 25.

To get there, Engram has averaged a touchdown every 5.29 receptions.

"He's broken every one of my records except one," said Jackson, in his third year coaching Penn State receivers. "(But) every time he does it, it's a good feeling for me to watch a kid who's really grown. He's done a tremendous amount for Penn State, just as Penn State has done a tremendous amount for him."

It was partly due to Jackson's presence that Engram came back for his senior year, passing on the chance to leave early for the NFL with running back Ki-Jana Carter. Engram wanted to tap deeper into Jackson's experience as an eight-year veteran in the NFL, mainly with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"The fact I wanted to get my degree (in exercise and sport science), come back and work with Kenny Jackson one more year and improve some things in my game were key factors," said Engram, who will graduate in December.

Even though Engram is not a speed merchant, Jackson said he has no doubt his star pupil will succeed in the NFL.

"Bobby's extremely intelligent, very physical and very strong," Jackson said. "He has strength in his lower legs that's amazing. He has as good hands as anybody I've been around.

"He runs a 4.5 in the 40. Cris Carter (of the Minnesota Vikings) ran 4.7. But they know how to make plays. McDuffie didn't run 4.35. I look at Bobby and see the same type player, only stronger."

After Engram had eight catches for 175 yards and three touchdowns against Rutgers (he scored a fourth on a fumble recovery), Paterno called him the team's most valuable player. In his selfless role, Engram is a strong down-field blocker and a threat on punt returns.

Even though Engram has helped reshape Penn State's passing game, he knows the Nittany Lions must run the ball to win. After Wally Richardson threw 48 passes in the loss to Wisconsin, the sentiment at State College was that the Lions must re-emphasize the run.

"The offense has made a gradual transformation," Engram said. "But to go through a tough Big Ten season, we have to be able to run the ball, get the big play and get the big first down."

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