STATE COLLEGE – Shaka Toney’s career has unfolded quite differently than both he and Penn State originally imagined.
When the Nittany Lions recruited Toney from Philadelphia’s Imhotep Charter, they believed they were in line to get a 195-pound outside linebacker.
Fourteen sacks and 50 pounds later, the redshirt junior has blossomed into a prolific defensive end for No. 10 Penn State.
“He’s embraced the entire Penn State experience,” Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin said. “I think our program has embraced Shaka. He’s really turned into being one of the better defensive ends. He is a fiercely loyal guy to his teammates, very respected in our locker room. You know, he’s really done well. I’m proud of him. I think he’s going to continue to do great things here at Penn State.”
Toney is just one member of a talented Penn State defensive line that reasserted its dominance nationally last week. The group was responsible for 10 sacks against Purdue, and came up just two shy of setting a school record.
After leading all of college football in sacks with 47 last season, the Nittany Lions through five games have positioned themselves to again challenge for the sack crown. They currently rank fifth in the FBS in sacks. They’ll take more than two dozen into this weekend’s contest at No. 17 Iowa.
“You get excited because so many people are contributing,” said Toney, who posted three sacks against the Boilermakers. “Everybody works hard, yet everybody doesn’t always get going to the stat sheet. Seeing new guys get their sacks, Micah (Parsons) got his first sack (Saturday), I think. It’s just always exciting that everybody is working, and that everybody is getting to eat.”
Junior defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos has tallied a team-high 5.5 sacks this season. Toney lags just behind him with five. Fourteen players have contributed to Penn State’s 25 sacks. Of those 14, six are Nittany Lion reserves. That productivity throughout the roster, Gross-Matos said, speaks to the in-house standard the defense has set for itself.
“I feel like that’s how you win games,” Gross-Matos said. “Starters aren’t going to play all the time. I don’t know if I’ve seen the room this deep. I feel like top to bottom, when you go in there, we have a lot of people live up to that standard that we set for ourselves. Going out there and dominating, being physical. When you go out there and don’t have a drop-off, it’s incredible.”
Toney through five games has accumulated 12 total tackles along with two quarterback hurries. His physical transformation since his arrival several years ago has benefited both him and the Nittany Lions. For Franklin, Toney’s contributions on the defensive line are measured in more ways than just sacks.
“He understands how to use leverage, and his intelligence, like I said before, is kind of off the charts,” Franklin said. “I think with Shaka, he knows who he is. He knows the type of player that he is. He knows his strengths. He knows his weaknesses, and he plays a style of game that allows him to be successful.”