In a trademark surprise unannounced move by Penn State, Jesse Della Valle was brought out to the dais in the Beaver Stadium media room following the conclusion of James Franklin’s weekly news conference Tuesday. (Cornerback Trevor Williams had previously been announced as a player available for comment).
No matter, it’s always a pleasure to hear from Della Valle, a gregarious Shaler native, former walk-on and fifth-year senior. The major topic of conversation was Della Valle’s punt returning, for which he’s developed a reputation for fair catches. Lots and lots of fair catches. He addressed that multiple times:
“I haven’t been able to return quite as many punts as I would have liked, but at the same time I don’t want to put the team in a position where I’m fielding punts that I shouldn’t be or I’m trying to return punts that I shouldn’t be, so I’ve been fair catching a lot of balls, which like I said, I’d like to return more. But that’s something that I’ve got to work on, too.”
“Mainly, all my punt returns come from just making smart decisions. And that’s what I have to do is decide if a fair catch is the best decision or if a return is the best decision. For me to catch every ball and try to return every ball is not a smart decision for the football team, so that’s why I’ve made fair caught so many balls that I have is because I’ve felt personally that it would be best for the team that I retain that field position and just fair catch the ball and get it to our offense, get it to (QB Christian Hackenberg) and those guys.”
“There is a timetable (to the decision of a fair catch or not). If I feel like it’s hanging up there a lot, I know if it’s shorter I’m probably going to have to fair catch it… You kind of get a feel for where your pressure is coming from or if it’s a low kick, if it’s a high kick. Definitely something I’ll be working on and trying to keep returning more punts.”
In four games, Della Valle has returned four punts. He has nine fair catches.
Coach James Franklin said he’d like to see more of the former than the latter – but not so much so that he’s looking to replace Della Valle with someone he can’t trust as much to be both surehanded and smart:
“He’s been really successful in catching the ball and making great decisions, but we would like a little bit more play making.
“If that comes from him, great. But we have some other guys that we’re working back there at practice every single day and they may be catching it consistently, but their fundamentals and techniques aren’t great or their fundamentals and techniques aren’t great, but they’re not catching the ball as consistently as they need to and things like that. So, No. 1, they’ve got to catch the ball. And then No. 2, if you can find somebody that has the ability to be electric with the ball in their hands and make some plays, then you’ve got the whole package and you’ve got something special. But I’m not going to give up the consistency of catching the ball for the play making at this point.”
Della Valle indicated he’s still working on mastering the change in strategy from having two punt return men deep – as former coach Bill O’Brien did last season – to him being the only guy back this season:
“For me. it’s just kind of an adjustment of detecting where that first pressure is going to come from, knowing that I don’t have that off returner to pick up the first guy.”
Though Della Valle has been the Lions’ primary punt returner over the past three games, he was finally placed atop the depth chart at the position in the weekly list that was released Tuesday. For the time being, Della Valle and former Quad North conference rival Gregg Garrity of North Allegheny appear to be the Nittany Lions’ top two punt return options.
Enjoy your week leading up to Penn State’s Homecoming game against Northwestern noon Saturday at Beaver Stadium.